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Modern American Literature. The Twentieth Century “Men travel faster now, but I do not know if they go to better things.” Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop. “The Moderns”.

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modern american literature

Modern American Literature

The Twentieth Century

“Men travel faster now,

but I do not know

if they go to better things.”

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

the moderns
“The Moderns”

Brinnin, J.M., Leggett, J. "The Moderns". Elements of Literature. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 2003. 524-536. Print

The End of the Innocence

WWI- a turning point of American life

  • Before WWI, “American fiction had spoken in youthful tones –brash but not fully original, and at times as uncertain as an adolescent’s” (524).
  • The end of WWI brought
    • Loss of innocence
    • Idealism turns to cynicism
    • Writers question authority and tradition
    • New moral codes
    • Deterioration of the connection to the past
the american dream pursuit of a promise
“The American Dream- Pursuit of A Promise”

The American Dream Consists of Three Central Ideas:

  • America is a new “Eden” a land of beauty bounty and unlimited promise. “Go west and seek

your fortune.”

  • Optimism and Promise-

Life Keeps Getting Better

and we are moving toward

an era of prosperity, justice

and joy.

  • The importance and triumph

of the Self-Reliant individual Anyone can make it!

The Modern Era is marked by a loss of faith in those ideals.

a crack in the world breakdown of beliefs and traditions
A Crack in the World: Breakdown of Beliefs and Traditions
  • WWI & the Depression erode belief in the American Dream.
  • Writers become skeptical

of New England, Puritan beliefs.

  • Influenced by Karl Marx (capitalism, BAD) and Sigmund Freud (subconscious vs. free will)
a crack in the world breakdown of beliefs and traditions cont manifests itself in from of lit
A Crack in the World: Breakdown of Beliefs and Traditions cont. Manifests itself in from of Lit.
  • Stream of consciousness- a narrative technique that tries to mimic the way we think.
  • Nonsense you look like a girl you are lots younger than Candace color in your cheeks like a girl  A face reproachful tearful an odor of camphor and of tears a voice weeping steadily and softly beyond the twilit door the twilight-colored smell of honeysuckle. Bringing empty trunks down the attic stairs they sounded like coffins French Lick. Found not death at the salt lick     Hats not unbleached and not hats. In three years I can not wear a hat. I could not. Was. Will there be hats then since I was not and not Harvard then. Where the best of thought Father said clings like dead ivy vines upon old dead brick. Not Harvard then. Not to me, anyway. Again. Sadder than was. Again. Saddest of all. Again. 
  • William Faulkner, The Sound and The Fury
  • HW?
at home and abroad the jazz age
At home and abroad, “The Jazz Age”

Prohibition (1920-1933) 18th Amendment bootlegger, speakeasy, cocktail, flapper, jazz & organized crime

Suffrage (1920) 19th Amendment

Women get right to vote and

become more “liberated” in social,

intellectual and romantic roles.

Edna St. Vincent Millay- poet and liberated flapper

The Lost Generation- authors and artist move to Paris for a cheap and exotic lifestyle where they could drink. Emblematic of the erosion of the American dream

grace under pressure the new american hero
Grace Under Pressure: The New American Hero
  • Disillusionment with the American way of life is a common theme in Modernism, e.g. Sinclair Lewis & Theodore Dreiser.
  • Ernest Hemingway- “reduced flamboyance of literary language to a minimum, to the bare bones of the truth it must express” (532).
grace under pressure the new american hero cont
Grace Under Pressure: The New American Hero cont.
  • Hemmingway’s Hero-
    • man of action, a warrior, a tough competitor, has code of honor, courage and endurance showing “grace under pressure.”
    • This hero is thoroughly disillusioned like his creator who felt that at the center of creation lies nada.
    • belief in the self, in decency, bravery, competence and skill- despite unbeatable odds that face us all
    • Seize the day before its gone!
elements of modernism in american lit
Elements of Modernism in American Lit.
  • Bold experimentation in style and form reflecting fragmentation of society
  • Rejection of traditional themes and subjects
  • Disillusionment and loss of the American dream
  • Flawless hero replaced by a disillusioned one
  • Interest in the inner working of the human mind
modernist voices in poetry a dazzling period
Modernist Voices in Poetry: A Dazzling Period
  • Dickenson and Whitman are the last of the “old school” washed away by a wave of Modernist poets who also washed away the last influences of British Lit. in America.
  • Ezra Pound, T.S.Elliot
  • Like Modernist painters and sculptors they explored new ways of seeing and thinking.
  • Symbolist- An art style developed in the late 19th century characterized by the incorporation of symbols and ideas, usually spiritual or mystical in nature, which represent the inner life of people.
  • Imagist- A movement by American and English poets early in the 20th century in reaction to Victorian sentimentality; used common speech in free verse with clear concrete imagery.
voices of american character poetry in new england and the midwest
Voices of American Character:Poetry in New England and the Midwest
  • Some poets reject Modernist trend
  • Make their points in plain American speech
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson- a Mainer
  • Robert Frost- a New Englander
  • Edgar Lee Masters- exposed the underbelly of Midwest small town life
the harlem renaissance voices of the african american experience
The Harlem Renaissance: Voices of the African American Experience
  • Conventional Verse of Paul Laurence Dunbar made the plight of the African American less disturbing.
  • Poetic rhythms based on spirituals and jazz, and lyrics based on the blues, and street talk- James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay and Langston Hughes
  • The Harlem Renaissance- an artistic movement that gained African American artist a new respect in music, poetry and prose.
against the grain poetic voices of the west and south
Against the Grain:Poetic Voices of the West and South
  • Robinson Jeffers- (Ca.) unorthodox attitude toward progress, religion and the nature of humanity in free verse and meter- inspired the beat poets of the 60’s.
  • John Crowe Ransom- Southern- wit intellectual, polished language of an earlier age.
the american dream revisited
The American Dream Revisited
  • Modernist writers echo and challenge the American dream.
  • Experiment with form and subject matter but still want to know:
    • Who are we?
    • Where are we going?
    • What values should

guide us on that search

for our own human identity.

matchism match the ism on the left with its definition on the right

A. the belief in noble, though impractical, goals

  • B. distrustful of human nature and motives
  • C. self-conscious break with the past and a search for new forms of expression
  • D. an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome
  • E. a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society
  • F. Freud opened the workings of the unconscious mind to scrutiny to try to understand the role human sexuality plays in our unconscious thoughts
  • G. a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
  • H. any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
  • I. an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market
  • J. the forbidding by law of the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic liquors except for medicinal and sacramental purposes
  • K. artistic imitation or invention that is a method of revealing or suggesting immaterial, ideal, or otherwise intangible truth or states
  • L. a 20th century movement in poetry advocating free verse and the expression of ideas and emotions through clear precise images
“Matchism”- match the “ism” on the left with its definition on the right













What would the “ismist” say? Modern American Lit. Match the quote on the right with the doctrine or ides on the left.

A. “This is a dry county, only teetotalers here”

B. “The puppy in that line is representative of the playfulness of youth.”

C. “I will be in charge until we are all equal.”

D. “Lets vote on it.”

E. “Nature should be free of all of mankind’s influence”

F. “What’s the real reason?”

G. “I think the fact that you are running in your dream means that you are trying to get away from the conflict in your life.”

H. “That’s so ‘old school’ its corny!”

I. “The bicycle in the painting means that we are all traveling through life and that some pedal faster than others.”

J. “The glass is half full”

K. “We want our leader to be the one who will increase profits in the export industry and invest those profits most efficiently.”

L. “I own this business and no government will tell me how to run it!”