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Modernism Mega-Review!. Feraco American Literature 27 February 2008. Quick Capsule Review. The test tomorrow will be worth about 80 points A mix of written response, true-false, and multiple-choice questions The book’s introduction to Modernism Hemingway + “Soldier’s Home”

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modernism mega review

Modernism Mega-Review!


American Literature

27 February 2008

quick capsule review
Quick Capsule Review
  • The test tomorrow will be worth about 80 points
  • A mix of written response, true-false, and multiple-choice questions
  • The book’s introduction to Modernism
  • Hemingway + “Soldier’s Home”
  • Thurber + “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”
  • Eliot + “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
  • Robinson + “Richard Cory” and “Miniver Cheevy”
  • Faulkner + “A Rose for Emily”
  • “In the American Society” (there’s nothing on Gish Jen on the test)
  • Material from class discussions and lectures
  • Blog study group from 7-9pm tonight!
why modernism why now
Why Modernism? Why Now?
  • Modernism was a symptom of general disillusionment with tradition
    • Affected art and music as well as literature
  • World War I – and the economic crash that followed a decade later – served as two of the genre’s “launch points”
  • In the wake of such a destructive experience, people called loudly for change and experimentation – new ideas for a new future
the american dream
The American Dream
  • Traditionally, there are three “underpinnings” to the American Dream
    • Remember them from the reading quiz?
    • Faith in America as paradise – an Eden of opportunity
    • Faith in the goodness of progress
    • Faith in the power of the individual
      • Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!
  • However, the war and the crash damaged Americans’ faith in this dream, and much of the art produced in the way of both reflects shifting social attitudes.
out with the puritans
Out With the Puritans!
  • Because their faith in tradition – including the American Dream – was damaged, writers turned to new methods and styles
    • They rejected the New England Puritan literary traditions that still influenced American writing
in with the rest of the nation
In With the Rest of the Nation!
  • Moreover, famous writing began to emerge outside of New England
    • Writers from the South, Midwest, and West had a profound influence on American literary traditions
  • Faulkner in particular represents a shift away from New England
    • He wrote in the “Southern Gothic” style
    • This style drew on the South for its subject matter, but not always in a positive way
    • Southern Gothic writers pursued darker subject matter, including the “dark side” of the South itself (especially its traditions, which is in keeping with the Modernists’ general assault on tradition)
    • Does this make him a Deep-South Poe?
stream of consciousness
Stream of Consciousness
  • In addition to growing regional influences, post-war writers followed emerging intellectual trends and incorporated them into their work
    • Marxism and psychoanalysis, while differing significantly in nature, both affected the ways that Modernist writers worked
    • Psychoanalysis – the study of the conscious and unconscious – led to growing anxiety regarding the amount of freedom individuals had
    • This fascination with psychoanalysis led to the development of a writing technique called stream-of-consciousness, which called for narration that replicated individuals’ thought processes (or the ways we draw on memories, perceptions, and fantasies)
    • Rather than writing everything in a chronological order, these writers tried to bring their readers into their characters’ heads
check out mitty
Check Out Mitty!
  • By understanding stream-of-consciousness, readers can better understand why Thurber writes “Mitty” the way he does.
  • While “Mitty” obviously serves as a parody, it’s also a fragmented portrait of a man – a deeply unhappy, lonely man
  • When fantasy is better than reality, Mitty retreats into his head and leaves the world
  • He is alone, and the people who don’t understand him can never understand his thoughts as well as we, the readers, can
check out prufrock
Check Out Prufrock!
  • While works such as “Soldier’s Home” continued to reflect somewhat traditional structures, other works – especially those of stream-of-consciousness writers such as Eliot, Joyce, and Faulkner – defiantly headed in new directions
  • “Prufrock” is a famous “stream-of-consciousness” works
    • We spend the whole poem inside Prufrock’s head
    • His thoughts are a mess; he’s drawing on literary references (especially Biblical ones) while he’s talking about women at a party who come and go and talk of Michelangelo
    • However, this stream-of-consciousness style gives us a view into Prufrock’s consciousness, and helps us understand him better – much better than if we simply watched him at that party! It also helps us get a sense of the loneliness and disillusionment that he (and many Modernists) felt
experimental poetry
Experimental Poetry
  • “Prufrock” contains many other noteworthy aspects
  • It’s told in an unusual way – it’s a dramatic monologue, almost like a soliloquy from Shakespeare
  • Remember – is Prufrock singing to someone, or to himself? We never know for sure!
  • It’s extremely sensory and image-heavy – think about Eliot’s descriptive language when the fog rubs against the window-panes – and its images can have multiple meanings
    • When Prufrock is “pinned and wriggling on the wall,” has someone else really put him there – or has he put himself there?
    • When he’s gazing out at the mermaids, lost in his fantasies, staring at the love he’ll never have – is he happy? Remember, when human voices wake him, he drowns…
experimental poetry symbolists
Experimental Poetry - Symbolists
  • While Ezra Pound’s Imagist movement influenced many of his followers, we’ll concentrate on the Symbolists and the effects they had on Eliot
  • Symbolist poets were deeply influenced by Romanticism (our old friend!)
    • However, the Symbolists didn’t find comfort in nature, nor did they see spiritual renewal
    • They felt instead that nature had been overanalyzed and stripped of its spirituality
    • The modern world had left them disconnected from one another and spiritually empty
    • People were unable to communicate with one another, or to understand the greater truths of the universe
  • Sound like “Prufrock” to you?
experimental poetry but it looks the same
Experimental Poetry – But It Looks the Same!
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson was one of many Midwestern writers to have a profound impact on Modernist literature
  • He was writing largely before the rise of Modernism
  • However, like Gish Jen, Robinson deals with many of the same themes and issues as the Modernists
it still looks the same
It Still Looks the Same…
  • His verse is traditional, but his characters meet with fates that reflect their inner selves – something that was still unusual at the time
    • People believe that Cory is the ideal, what they aspire to become – but his suicide shows they misunderstood the dream itself
    • Cheevy wants to lose himself in the past, but his perceptions of the past are not accurate; as we’ve seen through our studies in the first semester, the past was not always romantic, and our hero would have been saddened by what he found – much as those who had hope for the future would be saddened by World War I
  • His characters were meant to represent “American types”; Richard Cory and Miniver Cheevy are meant to be the types of people you could meet on the street. They are people who must grapple with the confusing and terrifying realities of the world – just like everyone else we’ve read!
check out emily
Check Out Emily!
  • “A Rose for Emily” may not spend much time in its main character’s head, but it’s still fractured and odd; things are told out of order, and we must rebuild the narrative by separating the flashbacks from the present day
  • Although Emily is the main character, she isn’t really telling the story
  • In fact, it’s hard to say who is! Think about how many times the voice shifts; it’s not simply a first-person perspective, but a first-person plural perspective!
  • This achieves a very nice effect for Faulkner; it helps us get a sense of the world that overwhelms Emily, as well as a variety of views and opinions
check out emily again
Check Out Emily Again!
  • Faulkner’s examination of Southern traditions is also a way of looking at how time and progress have changed us, both as people and as a culture
  • Emily is a relic, left over from an earlier age, and she cannot relate to those around her
    • The new generation that has taken power cannot understand her, and expects her to adopt their ways – but Emily resists!
    • She refuses to pay taxes, she doesn’t want a numbered mailbox, and she doesn’t associate with any members of the younger generation
    • In the end, we find out that she has been sleeping next to a corpse – the dead body of her lover – a decaying symbol of the past she knew, and a past that will never change
other experiments
Other Experiments!
  • In the wake of the war, many American writers moved overseas to continue their work
    • Hemingway, Joyce, Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby’s author) wrote in France, while Eliot went to live in Britain
  • Rather than write deeply complicated sentences (such as Eliot and Faulkner), Hemingway simplified his style
    • His sentences are short and plain
    • His characters grapple with issues of truth because his writing style sought to illuminate truth
    • By stripping away all of the flamboyance that characterized other writers’ works, Hemingway hoped that readers could better connect to the meaning behind his works
what s a hero
What’s a Hero?
  • I asked this question on the blog because it, along with the American Dream, form the heart of our Modernist studies
  • What makes a hero in a complicated age? Who can we look to for guidance and salvation? Who can we respect?
  • The days of the Romantic heroes seemed to be over; they were painfully unrealistic in a post-war world
the modernist hero
The Modernist Hero
  • Melissa pointed out yesterday that Emily seemed lonely and sad – just like everyone else we’ve studied!
  • But that’s the point – these characters share similarities, and it’s these similarities that you should recognize and understand!
    • Krebs, Cory, Cheevy, Emily, Mitty, Prufrock – none of them quite “fit” in the world
  • Modernist writers focused on characters who reflected their disillusionment and uncertainty
    • In this way, art helped them cope with the realities of their existences
  • The Modernist hero was not Superman, or Indy, or anyone like them; these heroes – or anti-heroes – were disillusioned or down-trodden
    • However, they kept goodness within themselves – honor, or courage, or a recognition of the rare, beautiful moments in life (before those moments slip away)
in closing
In Closing
  • The Modernists both echoed and challenged the American Dream
    • Characters sought it, realized it, lost it, or never tried to pursue it – depending on the author
  • They introduced new characters to study – heroes, anti-heroes, and antagonists – and built an enduring literary tradition during a terrifying and chaotic period
  • To read the Modernists is to read history – to understand who we are & where we came from
final straw
Final Straw
  • Study your notes, your readings, and this PowerPoint!
  • If you feel confused about anything, come to the study group and ask questions
    • If the group is silent again, I’m going to assume that everyone feels 100% confident in their understanding of the Modernist movement
    • If you aren’t, ask questions!