American Realism

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What are the defining features of modernism in American literature?

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Modernism is a general term signifying the gradual movement away from pure realism (depiction and dramatization of psychologically realistic characters, real-life dilemmas, and physically believable situations), to experiments in style, in breaking away from the “rules” of 19th-century literature, experimenting with more complicated narration devices (multiple narrators, as in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, for instance), more irregular poetic forms (as Cummings’ free verse such as “In / Just Spring”, with topiary shapes and creative punctuation) and more symbolic or emblematic stage characters (for example, as in Eugene O’Neill’s Great God Brown).  It can be said that American modernism influenced world literature profoundly, especially in more conservative country literatures, such as English, but followed experimental non-realistic trends from other European countries, notably France and Germany.  Generally, modernism signifies experiments in form rather than content, although some writers (Virginia Woolf, for instance) saw rapid changes in technology and social upheaval as changing the significant features and function of literature.  Also it must be noted, Modernism was a movement across the arts, not just confined to literary forms.

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