Modernism was a literary movement that lasted approximately from 1914-1950. Modernism began the breaking of traditional writing styles that we know today. During this period, artists began to develop their own individual styles as they felt that individuals, especially artists, were becoming increasingly isolated by a mass culture. This movement began with the horrible awakening that World War I impacted upon the world. Modernism was majorly impacted by several events in the early 20th century.
WWI broke out in the fall of 1914 and soon became one of the most devastating wars the world had seen in decades. By the end of WWI in 1918 the world had suffered 65,038,810 casualties. The high death rate can be attributed to several factors, one of them being the advances in warfare that industrialization had created. Machine guns, chemical warfare, barbed wire, tanks, and airplanes were relatively new to warfare and allowed the death rate to keep increasing. Trench warfare was also employed on the Western Front as the men often waited out massive bombardments of shells and bombs. This violent warfare and high death rate created a sense of disillusionment among many young Americans, even though they had only been in the war less than a quarter of the time other countries had been. American society became fragmented as many young veterans expatriated themselves to European countries to live. They became known as the Lost Generation and they were very influential in the Modernist Literary movement.
Social and Technological Factors
The economic and technological expansion ushered in by the Industrial Revolutions of the 18th and 19th century influenced a large portion of modernism indirectly. Industrialization began the destruction of cultures and environments at a rapid pace, and also left many peoples in places of oppression. Industrialization, while a wonder, was a mixed blessing for the world. Industrialization led to the development of cities and the rise of urbanization as populations grew. Industrialization allowed the creation of machine guns, tanks, airplanes and chemicals for chemical warfare. Industrialization also led to the rise of nationalism and imperialism that would lead to WWI tensions.
The United States entered Prohibition in the 1920s, and although it was a period of prosperity, those who had fought in the war found it hard to join in on the festivities. This is reflected in the tone of isolation that is often found in many works of Modernist Literature.
Modernism's end date is debated to be 1939, 1945, or even 1950. It is centered around the dates of WWII, and the period following it. The fragmentation society experienced due to WWI did not end, but was rather bookended by WWII, almost bringing the cycle to an end. Post-Modernism would soon take Modernism's place.
Sigmund Freud's work encouraged self analysis of the conscious and unconscious self. This self reflection influenced many of the works of the Modernist Period.
C. Friedrich Nietzsche promoted ideas such as "God is dead", "existence precedes essence" and existentialism. In existentialism, the thought of the individual is highly encouraged. The individual's starting point is characterized as "the existential attitude" which involves a sense of confusion or disorientation in a large complex world. Existentialism was popular among philosophers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and promoted self reflection and thought about one's place in the world among Modernist thinkers. Nietzsche's ideas included economic and psychological determinism. His ideas involved the belief in no divine patterns and the search for further meaning. He believed in trying to put "world" back into some kind of form or structure. This is in part due to spiritual ruins after the war which led many to question what is the meaning of life.
Marxist ideas of socialism and class struggle also influenced Modernist Literature in America. He believed in self determinism and workers uniting together to create a utopia, which appealed to the victims of WWI.