Modernism… in a nutshell

You may have heard of writers like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but do you know what literary period they were a part of?


They were a part of the Modernist period, a period of literature from the late nineteenth century through the early twentieth century, or even the mid to late twentieth century depending on the analysis, that focused on the self-conscious and experimentation with the format of literature.


A famous and epitomizing example of this stretching of the imagination with the format of literature is James Joyce’s Ulysses, the 1998 selection by the editorial board of Modern Library as the greatest English-language literature piece of the twentieth century. The book is most well-known for and oft-misrepresented by its eighteenth episode, as opposed to chapters, in which there are several sentences lacking punctuation.


Another notable experimenter with format was William Faulkner, whose novels like As I Lay Dying toyed with the idea of perspective and how it affects what we see, hear, and, as literary examiners, read.


The period was revered and criticized for the changes it decided to make with the literary form, but its highlights do not stop there.


Within these formats, the idea of the stream of self-consciousness came through. This was a writing style in which the characters would have long sentences, even paragraphs and chapters, simply rambling off all of their thoughts. Joyce’s “The Dead” offers a great deal of this style, with protagonist Gabriel Conroy giving thought to every aspect of the world around him and within himself.


Other great works from the period include The Great Gatsby, the wonderful work by Fitzgerald  ranked number two on the aforementioned list, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and poetry like T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  


Other writers worth mentioning are Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and Tennessee Williams.


This article was written using information from the following website and information gathered through my own reading of Modernist works and from classrooms over the years:


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