American Versions of Modernism


General Instructions:Write an essay of at least 750 words (including quotations from the poems and short stories that you use as support) on ONE of the numbered topics below. If you use sources in your response (even those I have provided for you), be sure to cite them, using MLA format. Quotations from the textbook require only a page number. You should choose different poems or short stories than those you used in your reading responses for Volume D. The three examples should be by different authors.

All stories and poems must come from Volume D of the textbook.

To prepare for the midterm, you will need to read the introduction to Volume D, “American Literature Between the Wars: 1914-1945,” especially the following sections: “American Versions of Modernism” (D: 13-16) and “Modernism Abroad and On Native Grounds” (D: 16-18).
The midterm will require you to apply ideas from the introduction to specific short stories (fiction) or poems written during this time period (1914-1945).
•You may choose short stories or poems by the writers that I assigned for the reading responses, as long as you choose different poems or short stories (fiction) than you chose for your reading responses.
•Here are a few of the writers (from Volume D) I would have included in the course if there had been more time: Amy Lowell (imagist poet), Wallace Stevens (poet), T. S. Eliot (poet–short poems only), E. E. Cummings (poet), John Dos Passos (fiction writer), Ernest Hemingway (fiction writer), Thomas Wolfe (fiction writer), John Steinbeck (fiction writer).
•To help you choose, you may find it useful to read the biographical introductions to the writers since most of these introductions discuss the author’s work in a general way
•Although you may use authors that you have already responded to, reading other authors is a good way to expand your knowledge and create original responses. If you use some of the same authors, be sure to choose different poems or stories.

•All reading selections must come from Volume D. If you do not have the textbook, please check the table of contents provided on the home page.
• The paper should be in essay form with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion (not a collection of reading responses–no sub-headings).
• You should use quotations from the reading selections as support for your general ideas. Your examples must show that you have read the literature that you are discussing, not just the author’s biography.
• Do not use long poems or novels as examples, since I want you to discuss the reading selections specifically, not just a short part of a longer work. Do not use The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot.
• A brief overview isn’t adequate. Again, you must show that you read the selection (poem or story) carefully.

1 Define modernism, using quotations from the introduction to Volume D of The Norton Anthology of American Literature or from one of the Modernist Manifestos (D: 335-350) (1499-1513). Then, apply your definition to at least three reading selections (poetry or fiction), using quotations from the reading selections that reveal the work’s (poem or story) modernist attributes. Each reading selection should be by a different writer. Please note that the manifestos themselves do not qualify as poetry or fiction, though it’s fine to use them as part of your discussion of modernism. You must still have three examples that are fiction or poetry (not non-fiction prose).
“Some writers rejoiced while others lamented; some anticipated future utopias while others believed that civilization had collapsed; but the period’s most influential voices believed that old forms would not work for new times, and were inspired by the possibility of creating something entirely new” (D: 6). (Everything following this quotation will help you write your essay.)
This quotation seems important: “At the heart of high modernist aesthetic lay the conviction that the previously sustaining structures of human life, whether social, political, religious, or artistic, had been destroyed or shown up as falsehoods, or, at best, arbitrary and fragile human constructions” (D: 14).
The section called “American Versions of Modernism” (D: 13-16) will help you choose writers to include.
2. During the 1920’s African American writers began to make significant contributions to American literature, especially during the Harlem Renaissance. Choose at least three poems or stories (fiction) from this literary movement to discuss, perhaps applying the ideas in Langston Hughes’ essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain(D: 348-50) or from the discussion in the textbook introduction. Many of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance are also modernists, so you may wish to quote from one or more of the modernist manifestos as well. (Note: “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” is an essay, not a short story, so it doesn’t count as fiction, though you may use it to illustrate an idea that does appear in fiction or poetry.)
Useful quotation from the introduction to Volume D:
The Harlem Renaissance sparked arguments between those who wanted to claim membership in the culture at large and those who wanted to stake out a separate artistic domain; between those who wanted to celebrate rural African American lifeways and those committed to urban intellectuality; between those who wanted to join the American mainstream and those who, disgusted by American race prejudice, aligned themselves with worldwide revolutionary movements; between those who celebrated a “primitive” African heritage and those who rejected the idea as a degrading stereotype. (D: 8)
See D: 7-8 for a discussion of changes for African Americans during this time period (the Great Migration out of the South, the gathering of artists, musicians, and writers in Harlem in the 1920s, the publication of two major journals of opinion, The Crisis and Opportunity).
3. In the section called “Modernism Abroad and On Native Grounds,” the editors say that “[m]any writers chose to identify themselves with the American scene and to root their work in specific regions” of the country (D: 17). Discuss at least three poems or short stories (fiction) by three different authors that chose to focus on a particular part of the United States. In your paper, you should show how these writers combine modernism and regionalism. Again, you may wish to use quotations from this introductory material, but you should also use quotations from the literature (poems or stories) themselves. (Note: Usually “specific regions” means parts of the U. S. away from urban literary centers–the West, Midwest, South, New England, etc.) This section includes many examples, so you may want to choose three of them (see D: 17).

4. Women writers also became more prominent during this time, despite the fact that “to some extent, male modernists tried to define their movement by defining women out of it” (1082, 6th edition). In the 7th edition, the editors assert that “the increasing prominence[of women writers]. . . generated a backlash from some male modernists, who asserted their own artistic seriousness by identifying women writers with the didactic, popular writing against which they [male writers] rebelled” (1189). Discuss at least three poems or short stories by three different women writers, showing how their work fits into the literary trends of the era. Do not use Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” as one of your choices, since it is not a poem or short story.
See D: 7 for a discussion of changes for women.

Note: In previous semesters, several students have had to rewrite their essays because they didn’t follow instructions regarding their choices of poetry and fiction (short stories). It’s a good idea to let me know your choices before you write the essay so that I can help you.
AMY LOWELL (1874-1947)
The Caputured Goddess
Venus Transiens
Madonna of the Evening Flowers
St Louis
New Heavens for old

The Snow Man
A High-Toned Old Christian Woman
The Emperor of Ice-Cream
Disillusionment of Ten O’Clock
Sunday Morning
Anecdote of the Jar
Peter Quince at the Clavier
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
The Idea of Order at Key West
Of Modern Poetry
The Plain Sense of Things

The Hollow Men
Journey of the Magi
Four Quartets
Burnt Norton
O Sweet Spontaneous
Buffalo Bill’s
The Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
My father moved through dooms of love
Pity this busy monster, manunkind

The Big money
Newsreal LXVIII
The camera eye (51)

The snow of kilimanjaro
The lost Boy
The leader of the People

Introduction to Volume D

The Two Wars as Historical Markers
• The two world wars (World War I, 1914–1918, and World War II, 1939–1945) bracket a period during which the United States became a fully modern nation. Both wars mobilized the country’s industries and technologies, spurred their development, and uprooted citizens.
World War I left many Americans distrustful of international politics and committed to steering the nation back to prewar modes of life. Many were wary of the growing influence of socialist and Communist ideas, which they associated with labor unions and immigrant radicals. Congress enacted sweeping exclusionary immigration acts in 1924, radically curtailing the flow of immigrants into the country.
• For other Americans, World War I ushered in more progressive forms of political and social life. Women and racial minorities gained some civil liberties and some new social freedoms during this period, though they still faced discrimination.
• Political, social, and cultural life in the United States was transformed by the stock market crash of 1929, which led to an economic depression with a 25 percent unemployment rate. This economic catastrophe was known as the Great Depression.
• The Great Depression did not fully end until the United States entered World War II in 1941. The war unified the country politically and revitalized industry and employment. The United States emerged from World War II as a major industrial and political power.
• The literature of the modern period reflects the nation’s attempts to come to terms with the many meanings of modernity. Some writers celebrated modern developments while others lamented them. Most writers believed that old literary forms would not work for new times and were inspired by the possibility of creating something entirely new.
• Writers of the period debated the uses of literary tradition. Some wanted to honor traditional forms and language and to include allusions to canonical works of the past. Others saw such homage as imitative or old-fashioned. Still others used literary tradition oppositionally—alluding to canonical literature ironically or fracturing traditional literary formulas.
• Writers of the period also debated the place of popular culture in serious literature. Some embraced popular forms while others rejected them as cynical commercialism.
• Another issue was the question of how far literature should engage itself in political and social struggle. Some felt that art should participate in the politics of the time, while others believed that art should remain a domain unto itself.
Changing Times
The 1920s saw ideological debates pitting adherents to small-town values such as the work ethic, social conformity, duty, and respectability against internationally minded radicals and affluent young people who argued for more diverse, permissive, and tolerant lifestyles.
• The social codes governing sexual behavior became less restrictive. These social changes found their most influential theorist in Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, inventor of the practice of psychoanalysis and an important developer of the concept of the “unconscious.”
• Women gained the right to vote in 1920 and found new freedoms in educational possibilities, professional opportunities, geographic mobility, and sexuality.
• Around 1915, as a direct result of the industrial needs of World War I, job opportunities opened up for African Americans in the factories of the North. Many left the South for Northern cities in what came to be known as the “Great Migration.”
• Even though African Americans faced racism, segregation, and racial violence in the North, a black American presence soon became powerfully visible in urban cultural life. The Harlem Renaissance—an outpouring of innovative cultural production by African Americans centered in Harlem, a neighborhood of New York City—was one manifestation of this development.
• Class inequality generated intellectual and artistic debate during the modern period. Following the rise of the Soviet Union, the American left increasingly drew its intellectual and political program from the tenets of German philosopher Karl Marx, who located the roots of human behavior in economics and believed that industrialized societies were divided by an antagonistic relationship between capital and labor.
• Americans who thought of themselves as Marxists in the 1920s and 1930s were usually subjected to government surveillance, suspicion, and occasionally violence.
Science and Technology
• Access to electricity, and to modern appliances designed to make communication and domestic work more efficient, expanded dramatically in American homes during the interwar years.
• Devices for recording and playing music, the radio, and motion pictures brought mass popular culture into being.
• Automobiles became affordable for more Americans and transformed ordinary people’s mobility, the structure of American industry, and national topography.
• Scientists during the interwar period made important discoveries about the size and shape of the universe, as well as the nature of time and space. The increased specialization of science as a discipline sometimes made these discoveries difficult for ordinary people to understand and led to rifts between literary intellectuals and scientists.
The 1930s
• The Great Depression was not limited to the United States but was a worldwide phenomenon. It fostered social unrest that led to the rise of fascist dictatorships in Europe.
• Many Americans began to question the efficacy and justice of free-enterprise capitalism.
• Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in 1932 and instituted a “New Deal” designed to combat the Depression. He inaugurated liberal reforms such as social security, job creation acts, welfare, and unemployment insurance.
• The dire economic situation in the United States produced a significant increase in Communist party membership among Americans during the 1930s. Many supporters of Communism later felt disillusioned and betrayed by the brutality of Soviet Communism under Josef Stalin. Some of these left-wing activists became staunch anti-Communists after World War II.
American Versions of Modernism
• In literary contexts, the term “modernism” is a catchall for any kind of literary production in the interwar period that dealt with the modern world.
• Literary critics often designate as “high modernism” work that represents the transformation of traditional society under the pressures of modernity and that breaks down traditional literary forms in doing so. Many high modernist texts interpret modernity as an experience of loss and represent the modern world as a scene of ruin.
• As a movement, modernism involved many art forms and media, including sculpture, painting, dance, and music, as well as literature.
• High modernist works are characterized by their construction out of fragments—fragments of myth or history, fragments of experience or perception, fragments of previous artistic work. For the modern artist or writer, the political, social, and aesthetic structures that had organized human experience previously no longer seemed viable in the modern world. Order, sequence, and unity did not seem to them to convey reality. Instead, they emphasized discontinuity, discordance, and fragmentation as more representative of the modern experience.
• Modernist literature often conveys fragmentation through abrupt shifts in perspective, voice, and tone and through a reliance on sometimes obscure symbols and images rather than clear statements of meaning.
• Some modernist literature draws on structures and fragments borrowed from earlier world literature, mythologies, and religions. For some writers, these references to earlier texts expressed profound truths. Other writers alluded to literary traditions ironically.
• Many modernist works are self-reflexive, or concerned with their own nature as art. In this way, they foreground the search for meaning and query the role of art and the perception of art in the production of meaning.
• Faced with making sense of fragments and intuiting connections left unstated, the reader of a modernist work is often said to participate in the creative work of making the poem or story.
• Despite their concern with involving the reader in the production of meaning, modernist literature reached only a limited audience. Many readers found it difficult to understand the meaning of these texts’ fragmentation and to parse their often obscure allusions to other texts or traditions.
• Some major publishers sought out the works of modernist writers to publish alongside more conventional bestsellers. Many more modernist writers found publication in the so-called “little magazines,” which were magazines with very small circulations. The number of little magazines in the period was in the hundreds.
Modernism Abroad and on Native Grounds
• High modernism was a self-consciously international movement, and many of its leading American exponents lived as permanent or temporary expatriates in Europe. Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, H. D., and T. S. Eliot all left the United States permanently, while Ernest Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Claude McKay, Katherine Anne Porter, Nella Larsen, Robert Frost, and Eugene O’Neill, among others, spent significant periods of time abroad.
• Modernist writers claimed to find climates more hospitable to artistic achievement and high culture in Europe, though they seldom thought of themselves as deserting their nation. Instead, they believed they were bringing the United States into the larger context of European culture. Many continued to write works that were overtly “American” in theme.
• Regionalism continued to be an important force in American literature. An especially strong center of regional literary activity emerged in the South.
• The history of race in the United States was central to the specifically national subject matter to which many American modernists remained committed.
• The Harlem Renaissance brought African American writers like Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston into particular prominence.
• Women writers faced a backlash after their prominence in the nineteenth century. Some male modernist writers asserted their own seriousness by identifying women writers with the didactic, popular writing against which they rebelled. But women still emerged who associated themselves with the important literary trends of the era. Many of these writers concentrated on depictions of women characters or women’s thoughts and experiences, yet few labeled themselves feminists.
• Although theatrical productions had been a part of American life since the eighteenth century, drama only emerged as a branch of contemporary literature—rather than a stepchild of popular entertainment—between 1910 and the latter part of the 1920s. It was at this point that drama began to conceive of itself as a literary form.
• Innovations in American theater are often launched in reaction against the popular productions mounted on Broadway. Playwrights Susan Glaspell and Eugene O’Neill were launched off Broadway.
• Musical comedy emerged as a distinctively American dramatic form in the interwar period.
• During the Depression, social criticism became an important dramatic theme, with political plays performed by many radical groups.

Question 1
F.T. Marinetti:
From Manifesto of Futurism

Willa Cather:
From The Novel De’meuble’

Langston Hughes:
From The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain

Question 2

Claude McKay:
The Harlem Dancer
The Lynching

Zora Neale Hurston:
The Eatonville Anthology
The Gilded Six-Bits

Jean Toomer:
Portait in Georgia
Blood-Burning moon

Langston Hughes:
Words like Freedom

Sterling Brown:
He Was a Man
Master and Man
Break of Day

Countee Cullen:
Uncle Jim
Question 4

Sherwood Anderson:

Katherine Anne Porter:
Flowering Judas

Marianna Moore:
To a Snail,
What are Years?
The Paper Nautilus

Ezra Pound:
A Virginal
The Cantos
To Whistler American
Portrait d’une Femme



For a custom paper on the above topic, place your order now!

What We Offer:

• On-time delivery guarantee

• PhD-level writers

• Automatic plagiarism check

• 100% money-back guarantee

• 100% Privacy and Confidentiality

• High Quality custom-written papers

Is this question part of your Assignment?

We can help

Our aim is to help you get A+ grades on your Coursework.

We handle assignments in a multiplicity of subject areas including Admission Essays, General Essays, Case Studies, Coursework, Dissertations, Editing, Research Papers, and Research proposals

Header Button Label: Get Started NowGet Started Header Button Label: View writing samplesView writing samples