What Is Modernism In Literature? | Origins, Parts and Themes of Literature Modernism

What Is Modernism In Literature Definition: Modernism in literature flourished in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, mainly in Europe and North America. Modernism is the literary movement that is considered an overturn of traditional writing ways—modernists engaged in writing with technological advances and societal changes.

Modernism is a break from the past and a concurrent search for new forms of expression. It is primarily characterized by optimism and convention in an era of industrialization, rapid social change and advances in social sciences. The literary and artistic movement includes imagism, symbolism, vorticism, Acmeist poetry, futurism, cubism, surrealism, and expressionism.

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Origins Of Literary Modernism

Literary Modernism started in the last two decades of the 19th century (the 1880s). Increased attentiveness was given to the idea that it was necessary to push aside preconceived norms entirely instead of following preconceived knowledge in light of contemporary techniques.

The theories of Sigmund Freud inspired early Modernist literature.

According to Freud, all individual reality was based on the play of fundamental drives and instincts through which the outer world was perceived.

According to Freud, the description of a subjective state involving an unconscious mind full of primal impulses and counterbalancing self-imposed restrictions was combined by Carl Jung with the collective unconscious’s idea, which the conscious mind either fought or embraced.

The Parts Of The Literary Modernism

The Parts Of The Literary Modernism

Imagism, Surrealism, and Expressionism are the three different movements within the Modernist movement.


The sub-genre of Modernism is Imagism. It is concerned with creating explicit imagery with sharp imagery with sharp language. In the early 20th century, writers such as Ezra Pound, whose desire to write unique, gave literary modernism its start. His contemporary writings in the imagist movement were precisely characterized by images, brevity, and free verse.

The Precursors and their works of the Imagist movement:

  • “The Return” by Ezra Pound
  • “In a station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound
  • “A Lady” by Amy Lowell
  • “Helen” by H.D.


Surrealism is literature and visual art movement that flourished in Europe between World Wars I and II. Surrealism emphasized positive expression but negation. Surrealism was a response against the destruction brought by rationalism which guided the European culture, and horrific politics culminated during World War I.

The Surrealist precursors and their French poems:

  • “Zone” by Guillaume Apollinaire
  • “Historic Evening” by Arther Rimbaud
  • “A Former Life” Charles Baudelaire


Expressionism in literature is to embody meaning, the reality instead. Expressionism finds a character in the writings that are driven by emotion and experience to think, write, and paint the world as it is. Friedrich Nietzsche’s novel “Spoke Zarathustra” and his other works are closely related to literary modernism.

Some of the precursors of the part of the Expressionist movement and their writings:

  • “Archaic Torso of Apollo” by Rainer Maria Rilke
  • I Am Much Too Alone in this World, Yet Not Alone Enough” by Raina Maria Rilke
  • “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” by T.S. Eliot
  • “Whispers of Immortality” by T.S. Eliot

Themes In Literary Modernism

Modernism tells us about the new period of art that evolved after WW II. Since literary modernism is a reaction against the traditional writing practices and industrialism, a wide variety of themes are present within modernist writings.

Theme of Alienation

Alienation is an essential theme in modern literature as it responds to W.W. I. modernist writers’ impact on the effects of war in terms of disconnection. For instance, the speaker in T.S. Elliot’s famous poem, “The Waste Land,” wanders around a barren scene, trying to reassemble the ruins into some coherent meaning.

The kinds of narration additionally reflect alienation that modernist authors favoured. William Faulkner novels, as an example, use multiple aspects to suggest that reality is broken and fragmented, counting on the topic. Characters are estranged from each other because each lives in a world of her own making.

Theme of Transformation

Poet of critic Ezra Pound’s declaration, “Make it new”, emphasizes the importance of transformation to the modernist aesthetic. Modernist artists are known for refashioning classical or mythic forms. For instance, T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land,” modernizes Greek mythology by alluding to Greek gods in the context of the modern scene of war.

Postmodern fiction further portrays how art, like reality, is usually being reshaped. Postmodern narratives often end inconclusively to suggest that narrative is ongoing, always subject to change.

Themes of Consumption

Another important theme in modern fiction is consumption. In the twentieth century, capitalism expanded across the globe, and fiction reflects this expansion by portraying consumer culture’s excess. Don DE Lillo’s “White Noise” is famous for its critique of consumer culture.

The narrative portrays characters who are addicted to shopping—the leading protagonist shops in order to avoid thinking about death. By assuming consumer culture with distraction, “White Noise” suggests that modern capitalism tries – but ultimately fails to overcome the problem of human mortality.

Themes In Literary Modernism

What does modernism mean?

Modernism refers to a global movement in society and culture that from the early decades of the twentieth century sought a new alignment with the experience and values of modern industrial life.

What is the main idea of modernism?

Modernism was essentially based on a utopian vision of human life and society and a belief in progress, or moving forward. It assumed that certain ultimate universal principles or truths such as those formulated by religion or science could be used to understand or explain reality.

What are 5 characteristics of modernism?

The Main Characteristics of Modernist Literature

  • Individualism. In Modernist literature, the individual is more interesting than society. …
  • Experimentation. Modernist writers broke free of old forms and techniques. …
  • Absurdity. The carnage of two World Wars profoundly affected writers of the period. …
  • Symbolism. …
  • Formalism.

What is modernism and its example?

Modernism is a technique, thought, discussion, creative work or genre of art and literature that breaks from the classical mold or that is considered cutting-edge. An example of modernism is a technique in art that breaks from classical stylings. noun.

Who started modernism?

painter Édouard Manet
In the visual arts the roots of Modernism are often traced back to painter Édouard Manet, who, beginning in the 1860s, not only depicted scenes of modern life but also broke with tradition when he made no attempt to mimic the real world by way of perspective and modeling.