ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

What is Modernism in Literature?

Updated on June 18, 2013
Ernest Hemingway is one of the most famous writers of modernism in literature.
Ernest Hemingway is one of the most famous writers of modernism in literature. | Source

"Fire and Ice" By Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost was an American poet from the modernist movement in literature who is mainly associated with the life and landscape of New England. He is known for his realistic depictions of everyday life and his command of speech that is closer to real life.

Modernism in Literature Definition

There are many definitions of modernism in literature out there. The most basic aim of modernism is to consciously break away from classical and traditional forms. Modernism in literature and the arts became popular in Western societies in the late nineteenth century through the early twentieth century, following WWI and the rapid growth of cities.

The modernism movement is a response to these societal changes as artists, writers, and thinkers began to see traditional ways of thought and expression as outdated for the emerging industrial society and changes in the economic, social, and political spheres. They experimented with new forms in attempts to completely break from tradition and reflect the mood of the times more accurately with different forms of expression.

Modernism in literature has its origins mainly in North America and Europe. The movement was a break away from traditional forms of poetry and verse and a move toward new forms of expression that more accurately reflected the mindset of the times. Writers, like artists, experimented with literary forms in order to fit into the new modernist point of view and regarded traditions as completely outdated.

Modernist literature often opposes or provides a differing opinion on a social concept. It is concerned with social norms, standard social ideas, traditional thoughts and expectations, religion, and anger following both World Wars. Writers of modernism in literature also usually reject history and social systems and emphasize a break from urbanized cities and industrial societies.

Some of the most influential writers include Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Robert Frost, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Butler Yeats, Langston Hughes, and D.H. Lawrence.

Popular Writers in Modern Literature

Modernist Literature

Do you find modernism in literature frustrating to read?

See results

Characteristics of Modernism in Literature

There are many different characteristics of modernism that help one understand just what is modernism in literature. Satire, juxtaposition, and irony are just a few literary terms highly associated with this movement. Writers also tend to use discontinuous narratives and fragmented plots and almost always draw the reader's attention to the author's role as creator.

Modernism can be frustrating in literature because of its lack in concise language and broken plot lines that can be confusing and seem nonsensical. It is important to recognize that one basic characteristic of modernism in literature is that they steer away from completely linear plots and do not aim to please any particular audience.

The use of narrative devices such as "stream of consciousness" are not uncommon in literary modernism. This device in particular is one example of how frustrating modernism can be for readers. Stream of consciousness is intended to be read as unedited thoughts coming straight from the narrator's mind in the exact order that they appear. These interior monologues can lack punctuation or correct grammar and even leap from one idea to the next without warning or any discernible order.

In the end, there are many different characteristics of modernism in literature, but, it can be defined simply as a break from past traditions that experiments in new literary forms that were better suited to the sentimentality of the times. While some works, such as "The Mark on the Wall" by Virginia Woolf, can be a little frustrating for readers (I know that one is particularly troublesome for me), modernism is still a fascinating movement with writers that are still popular today.

© 2013 Lisa


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 

      4 years ago from Inverbervie, Scotland

      I often shy away form terms like 'modernism' since I'm not always sure what they mean. Now I know! Thanks, Lisa. Voted up.

    • ajwrites57 profile image


      5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      LisaKoski, I find these modernist writers intriguing and inspiring. Every time I read something by these poets and authors, I find myself able to create! Thanks for the interesting Hub! (Anytime I see Papa's image, I click on the article it is added to lol!) :o)

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      6 years ago from Taos, NM

      Excellent hub! Very interesting and informative. I have read the influential writers you mention in the first part. I found them very interesting and not frustrating at all. The literature is more realistic and not every story ends happily ever after. Thanks for a great introduction to the Modernism era of writing. Contrats on your 100 hub score!

    • ytsenoh profile image


      6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Really interesting. I think learning about the different eras of how literature evolved is important to know and I think for modernism, it was frustrating for the artists (like Jackson Pollack, maybe) and writers as it was for many wanting to digest it. Stream of consciousness...James Joyce, certainly. All the influential writers you list is such a great company of names I love. Good hub!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Well written article, but how could you not mention James Joyce? You know your stuff, so what happened.

      Voted up



    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)