Modernism in Literature: Characteristics, Movement and Examples

Modernism in literature thrived for the latter decades of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th century, particularly in North America and Europe. Modernism refers to the literary movement that is deemed as an overturn of the traditional ways of writing. Modernists engaged in writing with societal changes and technological advances.

Modernism is the break from the past as well as the simultaneous search for newer forms of expression. It is mainly characterized by convention and optimism in an era of social science advances, rapid social change, and industrialization.

Characteristics of Modernism in Literature

Modernist literature has the following key characteristics:

·      Experimentation

Modernism in literature employed numerous experimental writing methods that broke the conventional storytelling rules. Some of the techniques included blended themes and imagery, nonlinear narratives, absurdism, and a stream of consciousness or free-flowing inner monologue.

·      Free Verse

Most modernist poets rejected poetry’s traditional structure and settled for free verse without a consistent rhyme scheme, musical form, or metrical pattern.

·      Individualism

The individual is normally the focus of modernist literature instead of society in general. Stories follow the characters because they keep up with a changing world, normally dealing with challenges and difficult circumstances.

·      Literary Devices

Most modernist writers use literary devices such as imagery and symbolism to help readers understand the writing and form a stronger connection between the reader and the text.

·      Multiple Perspectives

The majority of modernist writers used the first-person perspective in writing with several characters to highlight every character’s subjectivity and add more depth to a story through the presentation of various points of view.

Different Movements of Modernism in Literature

Here are the different movements in the modernist movement:

·      Expressionism

Writers aim to embody meaning instead of reality. Experience and emotion serve as the driving force to write, think, and paint about perceiving the world. Friedrich Nietzsche’s works have a close relation to this aspect of the modernist movement, most notably through the novel Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

·      Imagism

The desire of writers including Ezra Pound to make writing new started literary modernism during the 20th century. Pound’s writing together with his Imagist movement was characterized by free verse, brevity, and precise images.

·      Surrealism

The philosophy of surrealism took hold during the 1920s in France. It spread out from there to other parts of the world. However, the works of the French poets exemplified the movement’s best examples. They privileged dreams rather than logic and reason and considered the subconscious greatly, allowing it to come forward in their works. Techniques like automatic writing were also used for tapping into their psyche’s deeper parts. ‘

Examples of Modernism in Literature

The following are some of the works that are good examples of modernism in literature and its different movements:

  • Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’
  • Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘I Am Much Too Alone in this World, Yet Not Alone Enough’
  • T.S. Eliot’s ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’
  • T.S. Eliot’s ‘Whispers of Immortality’
  • Ezra Pound’s ‘The Return’
  • Ezra Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’
  • H.D.’s ‘Helen’
  • Amy Lowell’s ‘A Lady’
  • Charles Baudelaire’s ‘A Former Life’
  • Arther Rimbaud’s ‘Historic Evening’
  • Guillaume Apollinaire’s ‘Zone’

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