What exactly did the modernist writers want to achieve through their writing?

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Two other key aspects of Modernist literature is the introduction of what would have previously been considered profane—sexuality, violence and its after-effects, as well as coarse language—and the removal of the sermonizing narrator who was prevalent in Victorian-era literature.

By emphasizing honesty in language, Modernist-era writers (I will focus on...

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Two other key aspects of Modernist literature is the introduction of what would have previously been considered profane—sexuality, violence and its after-effects, as well as coarse language—and the removal of the sermonizing narrator who was prevalent in Victorian-era literature.

By emphasizing honesty in language, Modernist-era writers (I will focus on Anglophone authors) depicted how people truly talked, how they thought about sexuality, and how they experienced devastation, particularly shell-shock and severe physical injuries resulting from the First World War. In Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf depicts Septimus Smith as a man lost in his old mind and jolted back into the horror of his war experiences every time he hears a car backfire. In his breakthrough novel, The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway does not explicitly tell us that Jake Barnes has been rendered impotent due to a war injury, but shows us how Barnes drinks incessantly and commiserates with his love interest, Lady Brett Ashley, over their inability to couple. James Joyce's Ulysses was banned throughout the United States during the 1920s due to its explicit portrayals of sexuality.

The influences of psychoanalysis and Surrealism encouraged stream-of consciousness narration, which is most notably used in the works of Joyce and Woolf. By allowing characters to narrate their own experiences, the Modernists revolutionized the use of voice in prose. This made their characters seem more authentic. The absence of the moralizing narrator made the characters seem more morally complex and encouraged readers to rely more on their own judgement when considering the righteousness of the characters' motivations, instead of being told what to think through the author's intrusive voice.

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This is a broad question, but a good one.  There are exceptions, but in general, modernist writers' goals are focused on:

  • the replacement of religious certainties, moral absolutes, essentialism, and determinism with skepticism, doubt, and relativism
  • a feeling of alienation, angst, and "nausea" about materialism, mainstream institutions (education, work, and religion), role of the individual in society, and the accepted, status quo standards of society
  • existence as problematic (i.e., there are no certainties or absolutes about the meaning of life, the existence of God, the traditional pathways to happiness)

Remember, the modernist era began with incredible hope and improvements in technology (the camera, internal medicine, airplane, mass production, industrialization), but it was plagued with nationalism, greed and poverty, and cruelty--all culminating in the worst 30 years in human history (1914-1945), which saw two world wars, a great depression, pogroms and holocausts, and despotism and corruption.  The sum total was "engineered pain": we had found a way to kill and torture more efficiently that ever before.  So, you can imagine that wholesale changes in beliefs about God, country, and the individual were taking place--most of which were negative and pessimistic, but justified.

 

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