What are some key themes to consider within modernist fiction? Or put another way, what characterises a modernist work of literature?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Modernism is a fairly broad movement whose expression is divergent and eclectic.  This would be one tenet of modernism.  Namely, that human expression takes on multiple forms and the rendering of this at the hands of the artist will also assume many venues.  From an intellectual stand, modernism seeks to express the social nature of reality.  Arising from the late 19th century when many traditionalist notions of "the good, the true, and the beautiful" were reconfigured and seen in new lights, modernism expresses this change.  Industrialization had reflected the large disparity between rich and poor.  Nations had become forces that possessed ulterior and self serving motives.  Individuals had been exposed as Marxist or Freudian creations, descended from Darwinian notions of primal origins.   There was a new level of forlornness that was being expressed both within the individuals and the artists who deemed themselves as modernists.  Accordingly, Modernism sought to analyze the theme of the individual within their society, and how that social order might not reflect the individual.  The Modernists expressed their ideas in new and transformative light, using stream of consciousness, different narration techniques, and ideological approaches in their understanding.  These all become dominant themes in the literature of Modernism.

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