The Postmodernism Literary Movement
The Postmodernism literary movement began after World War II, and was seen as the opposite of the Modernism literary movement through various aspects. Although Postmodernism and Modernism have differing characteristics, many aspects of postmodernism literature such as “ the retreat from absolutism or the idea that language is suspect” can also be found in literature during the Modernist movement. The movement does not have a specific date that it began, nor does it have a specific date in which it ended. Many people viewed it as a response against Modernism, due to the events that occured during World War II, because of the shift in world politics literature shifted as well. The Postmodernism literary movement differs from the Modernism literary movement because Postmodernism includes characteristics such as irony, irrational thoughts, and simplistic language.
The literary movement wasn’t the first to use irony, but it does include irony heavily in literature. Postmodern irony is characterized by “multiplicity, instability, inconsistency, and paradox”. An example of the use of irony in Postmodern literature is Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People”. The story follows Mrs. Hopewell , her worker Mrs. Freeman, and her daughter Joy also known as “Hulga”. Joy has a very negative attitude but “ Mrs. Hopewell excused this attitude because of the leg, which had been shot off in a hunting accident when Joy was ten. Joy has a Ph.D., but lives with her mother due to a heart condition. One day Manley Pointer, a Bible salesman, comes up to the Hopewell’s door and he is invited to stay for dinner by Mrs. Hopewell because of his “ good country people” manners. Manley Pointer asks Hulga to meet him and she agrees because she believes she has seduced him and that she took “his remorse in hand and changed it into a deeper understanding of life”. They talk about how she believes in nothing and how she can see through things. They began to kiss and Manley Pointer coerces her into taking off her wooden leg for him comforting her by telling her that “it’s what makes you different”.
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After he removes her leg, he doesn’t give it back to her causing Joy to panic. He shows her that his Bible is empty and begins to get ready to leave her, while telling her “ you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born”. This story has many examples of irony, but perhaps the most ironic part is when Joy gets fooled by Manley Pointer. Joy prides herself in being an educated woman and that “true genius can get an idea across even to an inferior mind”. She believes she can teach Manley Pointer how to have a deeper understanding of life, but instead she is shocked by the reality that she is not as smart as she had believed once she is fooled by him. Joy “looked at nice young men as if she could smell their stupidity”, but was mistaken in assuming that Manley Pointer wasn’t as intelligent as she is.
Another characteristic of Postmodern literature is the use of irrational thoughts compared to Modern literature, which focused on logical or rational thinking. Postmodern thinking “has proclaimed that the Enlightenment ideals of objectivity and rationality are dead”. Irrational thinking is unjustifiable, unreasonable, and lacks evidence for its arguments. An example of use of irrational thoughts are Amiri Baraka’s poems “ An Agony. As Now.” and “ A Poem for Willie Best”. In the poem “ An Agony. As Now.” the narrator expresses hatred for themselves. The narrator’s hatred stems from the “smell what fouled tunes come in his breath” and the love he has for “wretched love”. The narrator repeatedly expresses his suffering through the numerous uses of the word pain. In “A Poem for Willie Best” the poem begins by portraying a visual of Willie Best’s, a black actor known as “Sleep’n’eat”, as he is acting while he is suffering. The second part is about how God doesn’t hear the struggles and cries of help from black people. The narrator conveys this message by saying “ if the head rolls back and the mouth opens, screamed into existence, there will be perhaps only the slightest hint of movement a smear; no help will come”. Both of Amiri Baraka’s poems represent the raw and emotional feelings of helplessness. The poems aren’t written in a logical or rational manner, instead they are written irrationally ad based on the feelings of the narrators.
Another example of irrational writing is Raymond Carver’s captivating short story “Cathedral”. The story follows a man, his wife, and her blind friend who is staying with them for a visit. The man isn’t very happy about the blind man visiting their home and the man’s blindness unsettles him. The man continues to explain that his wife met the blind man ten years ago when she had a job reading to blind people. His wife and the blind man eventually became good friends, and the last day of her job he asked to touch her face. This experience caused his wife to write a poem, and she wrote a poem or two every year “usually after something really important had happened to her”. The narrator then goes on telling the story of his wife’s first husband, who was her childhood sweetheart, and how his wife was unhappy about the area they lived in and her husband’s job. This caused her to attempt suicide, and the entire time the woman was communicating with the blind man by sending audiotapes.
The narrator once had the chance to listen to one of the blind man’s audio tapes but once he heard his name the couple was interrupted. The narrator’s wife goes to pick up he blind man and her husband’s fascination with the blind man intensifies when he notices that when the man is eating “ he knew just where everything was on his plate”. The narrator’s wife and the blind man talk about their lives since they last saw each other. The wife goes upstairs to change and they smoked marijuana, once she’s back she begins to fall asleep. The narrator asks the blind man if he wants to head to bed, but the blind man stays up with the narrator. The TV program broadcasted the Middle Ages and when the TV narrator began to talk about cathedrals the man asks the blind man if he knows what a cathedral looks like. The narrator fails at describing a cathedral properly and blames it on the fact that “ cathedrals don’t mean anything special to me”. Then the blind man gets an idea that they should draw a cathedral together. The blind man puts his hand on top of the narrator’s hand to follow his drawing and tells the narrator to close his eyes while he draws. In the final lines of the story, the blind man tells the narrator to open his eyes but he doesn’t. He keeps his eyes closed because he thought it was something he had to do, and although he knew he was inside of his home he didn’t feel like he was inside anything at all. The story ends with the narrator telling the blind man that “ it’s really something”. This story is an example of irrational ideas in Postmodern literature, because it is not scientific and doesn’t contain any logical reasoning.
An additional reason that Postmodernist literature differed from Modernist literature is the style of writing. Modernist writers wrote in a traditional fashion, whereas during the Postmodern era writers did not focus heavily on writing in a traditional fashion. Writers wrote in a manner that was simple enough for everyone to comprehend. An example of simple writing is Arthur Miller’s extraordinary play “ Death of a Salesman”. The play is about a man named Willy with two sons. His sons, Biff and Happy, are visiting him. Willy reflects on when Biff and Happy were younger. Willy pictures his life as the American Dream, but it is far from it.The family is in debt and at the end of the story Willy commits suicide. The family didn’t always have the best relationship, but Biff reflects on the nice days “ when he’d come home from a trip; or on Sundays, making the stoop; finishing the cellar; putting up the garage” and that “ there’s more of him in that front stoop than in all the sales he ever made”. The play was written with very simple dialogue and became a very well known American play.
In conclusion, the Postmodern literary movement differed from the Modern literary movement in numerous ways. The Postmodern movement was a reaction against the Modern movement. The time period after World War II could not be heavily expressed in the Modern movement, thus causing a shift from Modernism to Postmodernism in literature.