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MODERNISM IN AMERICAN LITERATURE1914-1945. NATURALISM: Life is a cruel joke I. WORLD WAR I (1914-18), the “war to end all wars” – Post-War cultural upheaval.

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Presentation on theme: "MODERNISM IN AMERICAN LITERATURE1914-1945. NATURALISM: Life is a cruel joke I. WORLD WAR I (1914-18), the “war to end all wars” – Post-War cultural upheaval."— Presentation transcript:


2 NATURALISM: Life is a cruel joke I. WORLD WAR I (1914-18), the “war to end all wars” – Post-War cultural upheaval brings a decline in American worldview reflected in literature

3 The USA entered the war after three years, declaring war on Germany April 6, 1917. A truce was signed November 11 th, 1918. The US entered social upheaval.

4 a. Increased mobility of Americans: - the automobile assembly line style!

5 b. Modern Communications: radio (1922) and television (200 sets worldwide in 1930, by 1948 1 million)

6 c. Silent Movies (1913) talkies by late 20s, color by 1960

7 d.“The lost generation” despite the gay look, the prosperity, the youth were called the lost generation. Named this by Gertrude Stein. No stable, traditional values, individual loss of identity, no supportive family life, no familiar small town community, with life revolving around planting and harvesting activities. All were undermined by WWI and its aftermath


9 Women’s Fashion from 1890 to 1920

10 a. Irresponsibility i. Political US had just fought for democracy and now ignored the world, after merging as the strongest world power. We pursued a policy of political isolationism. We were anxious to forget the war. Entering WWI we had recognized that America’s interests do extend beyond our own borders, but we now introverted our focus.

11 ii. Moral Shocked and permanently changed, Americans returned to their homeland but could never regain their innocence. Western youths were rebelling, angry and disillusioned. In a search for personal freedom and new interests, we threw aside the traditional values of the previous generations. The most popular dance was the Charleston - the wildest dance - a type of moral abandonment. The dance symbolized the behavior of many people. We began pursuing pleasure and wealth.

12 I. T.S.Eliot’s long poem, The Waste Land (1922) Western civilization is symbolized by a bleak desert in desperate need of rain (spiritual renewal).

13 The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) Epigraph – I have seen with my own eyes the Cumaean Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her "What do you want?" She answered, "I want to die."

14 iii. Leisure has been declared the basis of culture. Leisure provided the freedom for men like Jefferson and Franklin (and later, Einstein) to develop invention, read, write, and further theological understanding.

15 iv. Mindless Entertainment stifles creativity and precludes contemplation of God and theological issues Most people went to the movies once a week!

16 a. The Flapper: American women, in particular, felt ‘liberated’ Many had left farms and villages for homefront duty in American cities during World War I, and had become resolutely modern. They cut their hair short ("bobbed"), wore short "flapper" dresses, and gloried in the right to vote assured by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1920.

17 The ‘flapper’ with ‘bobbed’ hair

18 b. The Bootlegger: Illegal alcohol during Prohibition

19 c. Lawlessness: Gang leaders like Al Capone ruled cities, making millions from liquor, extortion, and prostitution.

20 d. Church Attendance: fell to the lowest level in our country’s history!

21 v. Economic Personal Wealth: The post-war Big Boom The Wall Street speculation and lifestyle depicted in Melville’s “Bartleby.”

22 Bartleby Wall Street dehumanizes people like Bartleby. He is no longer an individual; he is a human copy machine. Theme: loss of individuality

23 Bartleby the scrivener Melville emphasizes the intellectually stultifying atmosphere of the Wall Street world, since scriveners create nothing of their own but instead mechanically copy the ideas and work of others. In fact, the lawyer is initially attracted to Bartleby because he seems to lack a strong personality and independent will, making him seem like a model employee.

24 Bartleby The office is on Wall Street. The windows look out at walls. Bartleby stares out blankly. He is a victim of wage-slavery; he must work but the work has ruined him as a human being. The tone of the story is nihilistic. Bartleby is an empty Christ-type.

25 “Melville emphasizes the intellectually stultifying atmosphere of the business world, since scriveners create nothing of their own but instead mechanically copy the ideas and work of others. In fact, the lawyer is initially attracted to Bartleby because he seems to lack a strong personality and independent will, making him seem like a model employee.”

26 “While the religious readings of "Bartleby" seem to be on the wane, at least two critics continue to make cases. Donald Fiene (1970) argues that the uncompromising clerk is not just a Christ-like figure, Bartleby is Christ exactly.

27 Nathan Cervo (1972) takes the next logical step by arguing that Bartleby is God. Thus, the lawyer's rejection of the clerk is a metaphor for the rejection of genuine spirituality for "Economic Darwinism in its Calvinistic American form” Commentary on Bartleby

28 V. Economic Personal Wealth: The post-war Big Boom cont. In 1914 our nation had 4,500 millionaires. By 1926 we had 11,000. Land sales boomed in warmer climates, like California and Florida. Many people purchased the ultimate status symbol -- an automobile.

29 The typical urban American home glowed with electric lights and boasted a radio that connected the house with the outside world, and perhaps a telephone, a camera, a typewriter, or a sewing machine, all modern and American made.

30 1. "The chief business of the American people is business," President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed in 1925, and most agreed.

31 III. THE GREAT DEPRESSION: Black Tuesday, October 29 th, 1929 - the bottom dropped out of the stock market. Within 3 years, even the most stable stocks had plummeted. General Motors dropped from $91 per share to $7. Sears Roebuck dropped from $181 to $9.

32 a. Bank Failures: Business failures i.Economic disaster: Drastic rates of unemployment. Millions lost both jobs and their savings. Yes, our great-grandparents saved their money!

33 ii. New Deal Programs set up by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45): Our confidence was replaced by unrest. The Depression was worldwide, but we felt it more because our previous decade had been so prosperous.

34 By 1935 1 out of every 6 or 7 Americans was on government relief. The average annual family income for a third of the nation was less than $500. The upper third of Americans lived on $2,000 annually.

35 A Plymouth cost just over $500, a loaf of bread $.10, and a pound of apples was $.05. Prosperity did not return until the 1940s. Midwestern droughts turned the "breadbasket" of America into a dust bowl. Many farmers left the Midwest for California in search of jobs, as vividly described in:

36 l. John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939) At the peak of the Depression, one-third of all Americans were out of work. Soup kitchens, shanty towns, and armies of hobos -- unemployed men illegally riding freight trains -- became part of national life.

37 Many saw the Depression as a punishment for sins of excessive materialism and loose living. This novel is the stark account of the Judd family in the poverty of the Oklahoma dust bowl and their migration to California during the Depression of the 1930s.

38 IV. WORLD WAR II a. America blinded by economic worries

39 i. Ignored invasions by Japan (1931), Germany and Italy, until Great Britain and France declared war on Germany in 1939.

40 In 1939, ‘Germany’ meant, ‘Hitler.’

41 ii. An attempt of neutrality: As we shipped weapons and money, trying to stay out of the war, Italy and Japan became more aggressive, expanding their war fronts. 1. Pearl Harbor: December 7, 1941: America moves from shock to action, entering the war, and changing the course of history. iii. The Cost of War: $300 billion by 1945, when the war ended. 22 million dead, 34 million wounded. iv. Pouring money into Germany and Japan, our former enemies: now, both are important allies.

42 b. The War’s Aftermath - Social Revolution: i.Women enter the workforce, and stay. ii.Civil Rights groups form to protect minority groups from oppression. iii. Moral revolution from the feeling of power and autonomy. Who needs God if you’re an American? It seemed that man could control the world and instill peace.

43 But man found that not only could he not control the world, he could not even control himself. And man was impotent to maintain world peace. Korean War 1950 - 1953 Vietnam 1964 – 1973 iv. The romantic idealism and optimism in literature becomes cynical and pessimistic. Modern literature takes form.

44 V. DARWIN AND HIS INFLUENCE a. CHARLES DARWIN (1809 - 1882): Origin of Species (1859), the formulation of Darwin’s thoughts on evolution, claimed to give scientific support to the theory of man as a higher animal form.


46 i. Man: Animal or god? These are the two dominant views. A person committed to Darwinism considers everything, from lungs and vertebrae to intelligence and religious inclination, as products of materialistic processes. For him, moral truth is not a universal standard of transcendent origin; it is a set of ethical preferences defined by the dominant culture. In the end, morality for the Darwinist is whatever the ruling class says it is.

47 ii. No immortality, no fellowship with God iii.Theology suffered and theologians split: Conservative theology is the remnant; Modernist Theology embraced ‘science’ that seemed to otherwise threaten extinction to traditional theology. Cults arise and expand.

48 iv. Supremacy of the Caucasian male: racism, genocide, communism, abortion, homosexuality, female inferiority, and promiscuity are resultant. I.For example: male promiscuity - behavioral differences (the aggression in males) is chalked up to evolution. Thus males will be disloyal. Aberrant, or animalistic behaviors are justified. Enter ‘barnyard morality’ II. Females have smaller brains. Children, women, and the senile white have the intellect of an adult Negro, per science textbooks: inviting slavery and abuse.

49 b. SIGMUND FREUD (1856 - 1939): Psychoanalytic theories were embraced by the elite in the 1920s. Freud interpreted Darwin into human behaviors: implied a “godless” world view and contributed to the breakdown of traditional values.

50 i. One of the lasting influences was his diagram of the human personality.

51 Id, Ego, SuperEgo

52 i. One of the lasting influences was his diagram of the human personality. The "id" according to Freud, is the home of the instincts, the unconscious collection of things that determines what we will become. The id constantly demands gratification and in this respect it is primitive and irrational. The id knows no values, only wants and desires. It has no awareness of good or evil. When the id is denied, the individual is frustrated, angry and unhappy.

53 Superimposed on the id is the ego, that which the id uses to interact with the outside world. The ego would be what the world sees as the real person. Above both of these is the superego, somewhat like a conscience, bringing guilt or approval, acting as a judge. Behind these lie a pair of instincts, called the life instinct and the death instinct, which are continually in conflict with one another.

54 “Hence we know of two sources for feelings of guilt: that arising from the dread of authority and the later one from the dread of the superego. The first one compels us to renounce instinctual gratification; the other presses over and above this towards punishment, since the persistence of forbidden wishes cannot be concealed from the superego.” Freud, Civilization and its Discontents.

55 Libido Libido is the great reality in Freudian psychology. Libido is the pleasure urge or instinct, the driving force behind all human action, according to Freud. So pervasive is this concept that our dictionaries have adopted Freudian thought to define many human actions (look up ‘libido’).

56 ii. Regressive or Suppresive? “Armand Nicholi tells us in his book The Question of God that for Freud, what people call "happiness" is the result of a sudden satisfaction of those [sensual] needs that have been bottled up. Likewise, a failure to satisfy those needs can lead to unhappiness. For Freud, cultural restrictions that limit an individual's pursuit of [sensual] pleasure are "repression," and they're to be opposed.

57 In contrast... C. S. Lewis, whose worldview Nicholi compares with Freud's, spoke of what he called "suppression," the conscious effort to control our desires and impulses. We suppress our desires, not because they're necessarily bad, but because something more important is at stake. That's a good thing.”

58 iii. Civilized life simply entails too much pain for people. Remember that the Bible is the dividing line between civilization and Chaos? It seemed, for Freud, that the price we pay for civilization is neuroses. Or, as Freud himself would express it:

59 Frued “If the development of civilization has such a far-reaching similarity to the development of the individual and if it employs the same methods, may we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations, or some epochs of civilization—possibly the whole of mankind—have become "neurotic"?

60 Neurosis Neurosis are extreme emotions or reactions, such as; hysteric, hypochondriac, obsessive, phobic, claustrophobic, agoraphobic, depressive, melancholic, kleptomaniac, and pyromaniac. Expect to see these neurotic characters in literature!

61 Wm Faulkner 1897-1962 c. William Faulkner, for example, a 20 th -century American novelist, employed Freudian elements in all his works, as did virtually all serious American fiction writers after World War I.

62 i. If man is only an animal, he should not suppress his urges, or he might develop neurotic characteristics. To remain normal, man must not deny himself. Man is motivated by the Id, which seeks pleasure. Conscience is religious conditioning which applies moral restraint, resulting in neurosis. Man is an animal, enslaved by animalistic urges!

63 ii. Writers now create characters based on the assumption that man is motivated and driven by his urge for pleasure. iii.Platonic influence in Freud: Socrates’ motto was "Know thyself." Use your reason! Think! Find answers. Above all, examine your life for "the unexamined life is not worth living." As Christians, we proclaim, “Know Christ”, the absolute opposite!

64 “In every one of us there are two ruling and directing principles, whose guidance we follow wherever they may lead; the one being an innate desire of pleasure; the other, an acquired judgment which aspires after excellence”. Socrates, Greek philosopher Quoted in Plato’s, Phaedrus

65 iv. Apostle Paul, Romans 7:14 – 25 14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

66 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

67 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

68 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Romans 7:14 – 25, NIV

69 d. KARL MARX (1818 - 1883): Interpreted Darwin socially and economically: communism and communistic economics, “Religion is the opiate used by the rich and powerful to enslave and control the poor.”

70 Marx – Marxism became popular among American writers during the Depression years. Marxism appealed to unions but proved disappointing since individuals lose their personal liberty and property in the effort to achieve the classless society.

71 e. FRIEDRICH NIETZCHE (1844 - 1900): Interpreted Darwin philosophically, socially, and religiously. Philosophy is, of course, arbitrary, and reflects little more than the subjective side of the thinker while Christianity provides absolutes based on eternal truths reflecting God’s character. Christianity is the priest-class that convinces the “herd” that the afterlife is the only important thing.

72 FRIEDRICH NIETZCHE “Wherever there are walls I shall inscribe this eternal accusation against Christianity upon them—I can write in letters which make even the blind see... I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret, subterranean, petty—I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind...”,

73 FRIEDRICH NIETZCHE “The word “Christianity” is already a misunderstanding—in reality there has been only one Christian, and he died on the Cross.” Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ.

74 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra “Of actual religious difficulties I have no experience. I have never known what it is to feel sinful. A ‘prick of conscience,’ of which I have no experience, must be a sort of ‘evil eye… I am too inquisitive, too incredulous, too high spirited to be satisfied with such a palpably clumsy solution of things. God is really no more than a coarse and rude prohibition of us thinkers. Ye shall not think!”

75 VI. MODERNISM IN LITERATURE - ANTI - TRADITION a.REALISM: All literary periods have employed realism. What is different about this modern realism? It assumes the world to be controlled by blind fate, or chance.

76 What secular writers call realistic, we, as Christians, will think very unrealistic. A Christian realism emphasizes as a major theme the wisdom and goodness of God, the purpose and order of the universe. A minor theme is the failure and misery of rebellious man. In realism, you write of what you see. We see a plan, a purpose, and a hope. These men saw mankind as more beast than man, and the futility of life’s struggle. It all depends on your worldview.

77 b. NATURALISM: although similar to realism, naturalism actually employs Darwinism into its worldview. The author is no longer just trying to write what he sees, he is writing of the characters as though they are locked into fate. Life is controlled by forces that no one can change or even understand. The point of view is detached.

78 b. NATURALISM: This author will rarely let his character control his life. His thesis is that all of life is an illustration of the laws of evolution. The wars shook up the basic concept of man’s continual progress; he was now seen to be regressing. We see pessimism creeping in.

79 c. ANTI-TRADITION: At the same time as Nietzsche and Freud broke away from the Enlightenment tradition which specified that man was inherently good, artists, composers, and writers rebelled against traditional forms of artistic, musical, and literary expression. Their work created a great cultural revolution which we call modernism, a major step in the revolution of the hierarchy.

80 Modernism can be characterized by the heightened awareness of the Self. It is intense introspection. For the modernist artist or writer, intellect, or conscience, had become a barrier to creativity and the expression of human emotion. Human reason, especially that associated with Christian morality, rather than man’s liberator, had now become man’s captor.

81 ‘modernism’ definition: Modernism: a movement to reconcile developments of 19th- and 20th-cent. science and philosophy with historical Christianity. It arose from the application of modern critical methods to the study of the Bible and the history and stressed the humanistic aspects of religion. Its ideas permeated many Protestant churches and called forth a reaction in fundamentalism.

82 The modernist artists abandoned all artistic traditions and literary conventions and began to experiment with new modes of expression. They destroyed history in order to create their own history. They no longer felt compelled to reflect the image of God or His Creation with harmony, logic, beauty, and order. The modern man would soon reflect little of His Creator’s attributes!

83 d. FORM, NOT MEANING, IMPORTANT Meaning is not important, only the form of the poetry or writing. The concept of form being equal or more important than content, is the cornerstone of port-WW II art and literature.

84 Vision and viewpoint became an essential aspect of the modernist novel as well. No longer was it sufficient to write a straightforward third-person narrative or (worse yet) use a pointlessly intrusive narrator. The way the story was told became as important as the story itself.

85 Henry James 1843- 1916 1. Henry James, William Faulkner and many other American writers experimented with fictional points of view (some are still doing so). James often restricted the information in the novel to what a single character would have known. Faulkner's novel -

86 a. The Sound and the Fury (1929) The Sound and the Fury breaks up the narrative into four sections, each giving the viewpoint of a different character (including a mentally challenged boy).

87 b. "new criticism" arose in the United States, with a new critical vocabulary. New critics hunted the "epiphany" (moment in which a character suddenly sees the transcendent truth of a situation, a term derived from a holy saint's appearance to mortals);

88 continued they "examined" and "clarified" a work, hoping to "shed light" upon it through their "insights." which offered an alternative to previous extra- literary methods of criticism based on history and biography (what we do in Lit Circle classes)

89 New Criticism became the dominant American critical approach in the 1940s and 1950s because it proved to be well-suited to modernist writers such as Eliot and could utilize Freudian theory, especially its categories of id, ego, and superego.

90 C. Robert Frost (1874-1963) Robert Lee Frost was born in California but raised on a farm in the northeastern United States until the age of 10. He went to England, attracted by new movements in poetry there. He read an original work at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961 that helped spark a national interest in poetry.

91 Robert Frost His popularity is easy to explain: He wrote of traditional farm life, appealing to a nostalgia for the old ways. His subjects are universal -- apple picking, stone walls, fences, country roads. Frost's approach was clear and accessible: He rarely employed intellectual allusions. Anyone could understand his poems. His frequent use of rhyme also appealed to the general audience.

92 Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening, Robert Frost Whose woods these are I think I know. His house is in the village though; He will not see me stopping here To watch his woods fill up with snow. My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year. He gives his harness bells a shake To ask if there is some mistake. The only other sound's the sweep Of easy wind and downy flake. The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.

93 D. (Edward Estlin) e.e. cummings (1894-1962) Edward Estlin Cummings, commonly known as e.e. cummings, wrote attractive, innovative verse distinguished for its humor, grace, celebration of love, and experimentation with punctuation and visual format on the page.

94 e. e. cummings A painter, he was the first American poet to recognize that poetry had become primarily a visual, not an oral, art; his poems used much unusual spacing and indentation, as well as dropping all use of capital letters.

95 if you like my poems let them by E. E. Cummings if you like my poems let them walk in the evening, a little behind you then people will say "Along this road i saw a princess pass on her way to meet her lover(it was toward nightfall)with tall and ignorant servants."

96 Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) wrote of war, hunting, and other masculine pursuits in a stripped, crisp, plain style. He used detached descriptions of action, with simple nouns and verbs to be precise.

97 Hemingway He believed in writing out of one’s experiences. His writings and his personal life had a huge impact on other writers of his time, and ours. Some stories have been made into movies. He was an ambulance driver in WWI, was severely wounded. Spent time in Florida, Italy, Spain, and Africa. News correspondent in WWII, injured again severely. About 3000 manuscript pages of various items remain unpublished. Writings depict two kinds of people:

98 Hemingway 1. Men and women deprived, by WWI, of faith in moral values they had once believed in, now live in cynical disregard for all but their own emotional needs. 2. Simple characters with primitive emotions, like prizefighters and bullfighters.. They usually fought futile battles against circumstances.

99 Hemingway 3. The Sun Also Rises (1926), morally irresponsible people living in Spain 4. A Farewell to Arms (1929), a love affair between an American officer driving ambulance and a British nurse 5. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), the Spanish Civil War

100 Hemingway 6.The Old Man and the Sea (1952), about an old Cuban fisherman (1953 Pulitzer prize for fiction) 7. The Killers

101 John Steinbeck (1902-1968) He was born in Salinas, CA, educated at Stanford, worked as fruit picker and ranch hand. He wrote of the dignity he saw in those who work for a living, depending on the soil. He wrote of the poor and oppressed. His characters are often trapped in an unfair world, but remain heroes even when defeated.

102 Steinbeck 1. Of Mice and Men (1937), tragic story two itinerant migrant workers who want a small farm of their own. 2. Grapes of Wrath (1939), Pulitzer Prize in 1940 This novel is the stark account of the Judd family in the poverty of the Oklahoma dust bowl and their migration to California during the Depression of the 1930s. 3. The Red Pony

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