Modernism in the American Canon

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A literary movement that was influential during the late 19th century and early 20th century is known as modernism. There are several characteristics that define modernism in literature. Modernism brought life to art, cultural, and political movements. The movement also included several writers who included these characteristics in their works. F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and Ralph Ellison are just a few authors who have written stories that include modernist characteristics. These authors works were writing in hopes of creating a better world. Throughout literature modernism became an important movement that began in England and America, it was highly supported by American authors who intended to create a better society through their stories. First, there are several characteristics of modern literature. Modernist literature is an English genre of fiction writings. During the time period when the movement was on the rise, there was new technology and active wars. The action that was going on in the world at the time made people begin to question the future. Most modern fiction is written in first person. Stories that are written in first person make it easier for the speaker to tell the story. These stories are written in a freestyle format. Stories that were written with modernist characteristics did not include a beginning, middle, or end. But yet, a stream of consciousness was used. A stream of consciousness allows the reader to imagine thoughts pertaining to the story while they are reading. It is said to be a language of mimic according to LitCharts article (Frisella). Also, the technique was used to help represent the human experience in different eras in the world. It is seen to set a more honest outlook on the story. Modern literature also includes individualism. During the time period everyday life became difficult, because of pure change in the world. Individualism focuses on how one got through obstacles, the obstacles which resulted from the changes in the world. Also, symbolism is a characteristic of modern literature. Significant meanings are given to people, objects, places, and much more in these stories. As has been noted, included in the characteristics of modern literature are symbolism, individualism, stream of consciousness, and the freestyle format are just a few that may be included in any modern works. Next, modern literature became significant in the American canon. The world changed quickly during the 19th century. Due to the changes, information and people began to move easier. A couple of changes included both technology and art. Photography transformed the way visuals were being explored. Modernism had intended to focus on inventions and ingenuity. The best inventions could be used to make a better, faster, and more enjoyable life for the people. Society was shifted, shifted towards a better society casually and politically. This period during the shift became known as the roaring twenties. Dramatic political and social changes were noticed during the 1920s. According to the History website, more American people were living in cities than on farms (History) the wealth of the nation had gone up dramatically which made it affordable for people to move. Modernism was the reaction to the change of social structure at the end of the 19th century. Modernism was also used as a foundation for sociology, economics, ideology, and political philosophies of the culture. Eventually, there were numerous of things that paved a better and brighter future for Americans, modern literature became significant in this list of things helping Americans experience inventions, political and social changes, and much more. Then, several authors became famous for their modern works of literature. An American writer known as F. Scott Fitzgerald was born September 24, 1896. In Winter Dreams Fitzgerald included characteristics of modern literature. Dexter, the main character in this story is a young boy who wants to improve the social side of himself and to be wealthy. He does not just see the money that comes with wealth, he also sees the little things. At one point in the story, Dexter invests in high-end laundries. He soon becomes wealthy from the investments. As the story goes on, Dexter and Judy's relationship goes back and forth he told himself the trouble and the pain she had caused him, enumerated her glaring deficiencies as a wife (Fitzgerald 2159) he knew at one point that the amount of pain she caused him would be the reason they would never experience the type of relationship he hoped for. The trouble throughout the story he experienced with Judy shows modernist characteristics. The amount of wealth Dexter has in the story would make one think he would act the opposite of how he does. His attitude towards social views is shown through his actions, acting as if he was just as poor as most during the time. He did not let the wealth stereotype him as an individual. The social views in society is a characteristic of modern literature, which Fitzgerald included in Winter Dreams by showing Dexter's humbleness. As the end of the story came Dexter joined the army. Active war is also a characteristic of modern literature, and this was shown as Dexter fought in the war. Given these points, Fitzgerald's Winter Dreams is a modern literature work because it includes the social views of an individual vs. society and the fact Dexter fought in WWI. Now, William Faulkner was also a modern author. Faulkner is an American author from Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner is the author of Barn Burning which includes modern literature characteristics. Like all modernist, Faulkner wanted to view life from different angles. Both the time and stream-of-consciousness in this story show Faulkner's modernist style. The fact Faulkner goes back and forth with time is an example of the time with modernist literature. He often said one thing, and then went backward or forward in time on the same subject. In an example, Sarty often thinks of the way things would have been if he was older. As stated earlier stream-of-consciousness is also a characteristic of modernism, and Faulkner used it in this story. We, the readers are aware of what Sarty is thinking throughout the story because of the stream-of-consciousness used in the story. The long sentences and diction Faulkner used knew he could smell cheese and more...the cheese which he knew he smelled and hermetic meat in which his intestines believed he smelled (Faulkner 2188) helped create that stream-of-consciousness used in the story while also giving the reader a chance to know how Sarty is feeling. Although Faulkner used several characteristics in Barn Burning that showed his modern style, his timing in the story and stream-of-consciousness made his modern style clear. Finally, Ralph Ellison was also a modern novelist. Ellison was also an American novelist, literary critic, and scholar. He showed his modern style in From Invisible Man, a story about a young African American who is struggling to survive in a divided society. The society in which he is living does not notice him, he feels like he is invisible to them. The struggle in the society which the main character is facing to become someone is a modern characteristic. The story is seen to include both modern and natural literary elements, this is a piece of literature that embodies the theme and styles of many literary schools of thoughts woven together, the most dominant of them being naturalism and modernism (Villa Corta) as the young man is trying hard to figure life out by himself and trying to survive in violent situations that he finds himself trapped in. In all, Ellison expresses naturalism but at the same time modernism because of the fact the boy in The Invisible Man struggled to be an African American because of society. In conclusion, modernism was significant in the American canon. It was significant because it was the beginning of inventions, a better society, and much more. There were several authors who used modern characteristics in their literature. As stated above F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and Ralph Ellison all used modern literary characteristics in their stories. In Winter Dreams by F. Scott Fitzgerald, there was a struggle Dexter faced which showed his social views with society. Also, later on in the story him joining the army was modernist. Faulkner showed his modernist style in his story Barn Burning where he used timing and a stream-of-consciousness. Ralph Ellison showed his modernist style in The Invisible Man, he struggled with society because he was African American. There are several characteristics of modern style literature. Authors used these characteristics to describe feelings, places, and much more whether it was about an individual or America as a whole during the modernist time period.
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Modernism in the American canon. (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved December 1, 2023 , from

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