• A period of sudden and unexpected
breaks with traditional ways of viewing
and interacting with the world.
Experimentation and individualism
became virtues, where in the past they
were often heartily discouraged.
• Pursuit of the American Dream
• America as the new Eden
• Importance of the individual
In the early 1900s, numerous
technological advances made people’s
• Escalators, air conditioners, teabags, better
lightbulbs, E=MC², Model T (car), instant
• In World War I, more than 5 million people
were killed during the war.
• However, in 1914, war in Europe broke out
• Modern writers Ernest Hemingway, E.E.
Cummings, and John Dos Pasos experienced
the war first hand
This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-
In 1919, Prohibition was instituted in the U.S.,
but this led to the underground sales of
alcohol. Bootlegging, speakeasies, and gang
warfare in major cities followed.
In the 1920’s, the nation finally surged and new
major cities around the country were formed.
Radio, jazz, and movies filled imaginations
THELASTOF THE HISTORY
• F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about both the glamourous and
pitiful sides of the American dream in The Great Gatsby.
• Artists and writers flocked to New York’s Greenwich
• In 1929, the stock market crashed and the United States, and the
rest of the world, went into the Great Depression.
• In 1939, war in Europe broke out again. World War II lasted until
1945 when the United States introduced the Atomic Age by
dropping two atom bombs on Japan.
THE BIRTH OF MODERNISM
• WWI ended the years of optimism of the
early 20th Century.
• People no longer trusted the values of the
world and sought new ideas that were more
applicable to modern life.
• Modernists experimented with a wide variety
of new approaches and techniques.
• During 19th Century, the Enlightenment notion
of the world as a machine—something whose
parts could be named and seen to function—
came back into favor.
• Positivism—the 19th Century belief that
everything, including human nature, could be
explained and understood through science.
• Modernism rejects this idea.
AN UGLY WAR
• WW I was the first “total war” in
which modern weapons spared
no one, including civilians.
• The casualties suffered by the
participants in World War I
dwarfed those of previous wars:
some 8,500,000 soldiers died as
a result of wounds and/or
• War was increasingly
mechanized from 1914 and
produced casualties even when
nothing important was
• It has been estimated that the number of civilian deaths
attributable to the war was higher than the military
casualties, or around 13,000,000. These civilian deaths
were largely caused by starvation, exposure, disease,
military encounters, and massacres.
• The enormity of the war had undermined humankind's
faith in Western society and culture.
• A generation of young men lost.
• Survivors reexamine bases of certainly, structure of knowledge,
systems of belief and authorities.
• Creating a feeling of hopelessness.
• Postwar modernist literature reflected a sense of
disillusionment and fragmentation.
WASSILY KANDINSKY, COMPOSITION VIII, 1923
OIL ON CANVAS (SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM
MUSEUM, NEW YORK)
• Attacked scientific rationality
as artificial and unreal.
• Saw reality as a fluid, living
• Proposed intuition, instead
of quantitative and logical
• Stressed subconscious motives
and instinctual drives.
• After Freud, impossible to ignore
psychological undercurrents of
• Writers deal with subconscious
• Employ stream of consciousness
technique similar to Freud’s
therapeutic tactic of free
• Theory of relativity
abandoned the concepts
of absolute motion and the
absolute difference of
space and time.
• Theories became
interpreted in popular
culture that we cannot
know anything for sure; all
knowledge is relative.
• Refused direct
• Favor of expressing an
inner vision, emotion,
or spiritual reality.
• The Scream by Edvard
Munch evokes a whole
realm of spiritual
• Aim to bring a fuller
awareness of human
• Urging experimentation in both literary form and subject
matter, American poet Ezra Pound advised authors to
“make it new.”
• The choice of subject matter was often a revolt against the
traditional conception of what was appropriate for
• Experiments with point of view and narrative structure.
• Rejection of chronological and narrative continuity.
• Literature and language as a game.
• Precise images and common speech.
• Literature = art object produced by consummate craft
rather than as a statement of emotion.
PIET MONDRIAN, COMPOSITION A, 1923
OIL ON CANVAS (GALLERIA NAZIONALE D'ARTE MODERNA
E CONTEMPORANEA, ROME)
Writers sought to reflect the
fragmentation of the modern world
by constructing their work out
of fragments, omitting the
expositions, transitions, resolutions,
and explanations used in traditional
Modern poets abandoned traditional
forms in favor of free verse. They
often forced readers to draw their
•Imagism (1909-1917) - Poets rebelled against
sentimental poetry and instead demanded hard,
clear expressions, concrete images, and the
language of everyday speech.
•The Expatriates – Postwar disenchantment led
many American writers to become expatriates, or
exiles, in Europe.
•Included Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and T.S.
OTHER MODERN MOVEMENTS
• Writers practiced the stream-of-
consciousness technique to produce novels
• Poets stretched boundaries by paying
attention to wordplay, typography, and
• American authors finally began to garner
Pearl S. Buck
T.S. Eliot (poet)
Beginning in 1921 in Harlem, New
York, African-American writers, most
of them newcomers from the South,
led a burst of creativity by black
writers that changed the landscape of
The writers of this movement opened
the door for African-American artists
who followed them.