Матеріали з Американської Літератури - натуралізм, модернізм, поезія та проза

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Американська Література 20 століття. Натуралізм, модернізм, поезія та проза.
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Naturalism – definition and defining problems


-          an international movement in literature, an aesthetic and philosophical ideology, based on the findings and ideas of social Darwinists, esp. Edmund Spencer

-          international representatives: Emil Zola

-          comparison with Realism: no psychological depth, no free will or choice; strong limitation of dilemmas in characters

-          two meanings of naturalism: ideology coming out of social Darwinism and an evolution or version of Realism

-          one of the biggest questions of the naturalist movement: what is determinism, how does it work, does determinism necessarily produce pessimistic outcomes, the role of accident in human life


Stephen Crane

Overall, "The Open Boat" presents a naturalistic view of the world, depicting nature as a powerful and indifferent force that shapes the lives of individuals. The story explores the human struggle for meaning and significance in the face of an often hostile and unpredictable environment.


In summary, "The Red Badge of Courage" is significant as a war novel due to its psychological realism, anti-romantic portrayal of war, symbolic use of the red badge, incorporation of naturalistic elements, and its influence on subsequent works in the genre. The novel provides a nuanced exploration of the internal struggles faced by soldiers, contributing to the evolution of war literature.

The term "red badge" refers to a wound received in battle. Initially, Henry desires a physical injury as a badge of courage, something tangible to prove his bravery. However, as the story progresses, the red badge takes on a symbolic meaning, representing the internal growth and transformation of the protagonist. The novel explores the idea that true courage is found within, regardless of external symbols.


Jack London

- rich biography: oyster pirate in San Francisco Bay; sailor/seaman, cross-country hobo; later takes part in the Alaska gold rush; wrote a thousand words a day for 17 years;

- mixed social message:

o attracted to Nietzsche’s theory of “will to power” AND to the idea of the social revolution

- his best novels: The Call of the Wild (1903); White Fang (1906):

o tales of animals – animals as characters eliminate the element of human agency; or they diminish or question human agency

o animals as organisms which coordinate inner energy with external circumstance

- “To Build a Fire” (1908) – his best story

o The very character of this prose favors pessimistic determinism

- Martin Eden (1908): most biographical novel: from rough life in San Francisco Bay to fame as best-selling author

“To Build a Fire”

-A man traveling in Yukon and Alaska, there was a better trapper that advised him not to do it, story is an analysis of series of misfortunate events. He’s very calm when his legs get wet. He makes a fire under the tree with snow on it, and the snow cap falls onto the fire extinguishing it. There’s also a dog whom is wiser than the owner. It understands that they shouldn’t be there. When the man realizes that he can’t make a fire. He wants to kill the dog to warm himself, but dog senses it and won’t come near. Best story of the author probably. He’s almost mechanical in his descriptions.

Frank Norris

· early works: McTeague (1899); Moran of the Lady Letty (1898);

· the intended (unfinished) “wheat” trilogy: The Octopus (1901); The Pit (1903)

background and crucial ideas:

· family moves from Chicago to San Francisco

· Norris studied painting in Paris and becomes familiar with Emil Zola’s novels

· Studied as the University of California: Darwin and Spencer

· Worked as journalist and reporter for the press

· the predominance of animal instinct in human behavior

· overturning and rejecting the standard liberal bourgeois realism which sustained the idea of individual responsibility; attacking the story of the success of the American individualism as myth

· greed, lust, rage, envy – are seen from biological/evolutionary perspective, not from the perspective of morality

· man is governed by his impulses and innate instincts (the main character of his novel McTeague is unable to curb his animal brutality – kills his wife)

· conventions were just a surface covering deeper inner instincts, animal nature – culture is less important than the instinctual layer

The “wheat trilogy”:

· ambitious literary design to trace large scale processes, far exceeding the control not only of individuals but also of separate institutions

· in The Octopus – the conflict is between ranchers and the Southern Pacific Railroad Company – but neither side is shown to have moral superiority (even though the novel is narrated from the ranchers’ perspective)

· individuals and their progress and development are shown in subplots

· the inner development of the individuals is sacrificed to larger social and economic processes

· the predominant perspective is deterministic

· collective development is more important than any individual life

· the individual is sacrificed for the sake of the progress of the race: “the individual suffers, but the race goes on”

· ultimately, the message is of the progress of humanity as a whole


Theodore Dreiser

background, themes and ideas:

· son of a German immigrant, born in Indiana, mother came from Ohio; multiple children family; family suffers impoverishment

· raised as a Catholic, later became an atheist

· beginnings of professional career as a journalist in Midwest

· irrelevance of middle-class standards

· personal experience of poverty, humiliation, lack of stability in life

· deep personal understanding of the desire for advancement, wealth, power in life especially in those who begin at the lowest sections of the social ladder

· dominance of chance and accident in human affairs and in human happiness

· mixture of the realist and naturalist approaches; contemporary of modernist prose writers, like Fitzgerald (sometimes compared with them)

· the characters success or failure does not depend on their inner qualities – it is a result of mere chance and accident

· characters are at the right/wrong time in the right/wrong place – and this accidentality is the entire determining factor of their failure or success

· this approach sometimes means that mediocrity succeeds over merit

· dominance of instinctual action and human desires which come into chance alignments with the environment

· influence of the early training as journalist and reporter on his writings

major works:

· Sister Carrie (1900): story of the success of a mediocre actress; the failure of success of the characters rest on one and the same principle: accident

o mixture of realist portrayal of society and naturalist analysis of the human condition

o some traces of H. James’s realist portrayal of women’s position in society

o Carrie succeeds despite, or because, her mediocrity: she merely acts out commonly shared desires and expectations

o Carrie says something when onstage, and the line fits the general expectation, which leads to her stardom – an accident determines the situation of the character

o Hurstwood – the male protagonist and Carrie’s partner – is a combination of desires, foolishness and indecision which leads to his gradual social degradation; he is a good example of a naturalist principle in building a character – as the story unfolds, less and less depends on him, his situation is governed by accident

· An American Tragedy (1925): the main factors governing the fate of the characters: accident and inability to curb one’s instincts

o a culture in which success is imagined in sexual terms

o the main protagonist – Clyde Griffiths – follows a path of irresponsible, purely instinctual acts

o the central “tragedy” of the novel is a combination of his uncontrolled instincts (frustration, anger) and accident – Clyde wants to kill his partner, and yet there is more accident than intent behind the killing – he hits her, when they are both on a boat, by accident, but this leads to her drowning anyway

· “Trilogy of Desire”: The Financier (1912); The Titan (1914); The Stoic (1947):

o evolutionary analogies applied to large scale financial and social processes; urban themes, development of the modern city

o the “lobster vs. the squid” fragment: irrelevance of anything but strength in the organization of society

o Dreiser dazzled by such people as JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller – he saw them as artists

Dreiser’s legacy:

His techniques and general perceptions were important for later American writers: Richard Wright, John Dos Passos, Norman Mailer, even Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner



Pre-Modernist Tensons in American Poetry

  • Gap between tradition (traditional themes and techniques of poetry) and the sense of the new
  • Impinging pressure toward new forms, topics, and voices in poetry, in reaction to:
  1. the exhausted romantic tradition
  2. vast social, political, demographic changes
  3. Aesthetic tastes of the genteel tradition
  • A group of poets who are bridging this gap
  1. tension between traditional verse form and new topics
  2. tension between disciplined form and tendencies toward fragmentation
  3. moral and metaphysical dilemmas: how to maintain faith in large, unified, holistic world-views of Romanticism or religion



Edwin Arlington Robinson

- born in a small sea-side town in Maine

- family of modest material means combined with respect for learning, education,

- suffered poverty in adult life

first volume brought out in 1896 (The Torrent and the Night Before) – one review read: “[this vers has] true fire… but the world is not beautiful to him, but a prison house”.

- Children of the Night (1897)

- The Town Down the River (1910)

- the two above volumes: influence of realistic prose

- president Theodore Roosevelt praises Children of the Night (in 1905; there is correspondence between the poet and the president; president’s patronage helps the poet financially)

- quote from the poet: “the world is not a ‘prison house’ but a kind of spiritual kindergarten where millions of bewildered infants are trying to spell ‘God’ with wrong blocks”. (this in response to a review which said that “the world is not beautiful to him but a prison house”.

Themes in his poetry:

- bridge between the transcendental and naturalist vision

- crisis of faith in transcendental structures founding order

- bridge between Romanticism and modernity

- individual, single characters and their internal crisis

- small town characters (Tilbury Town, fictive place based on his childhood town of Gardiner, Maine)

- bleak vision of alienation, solitude, ”quiet desperation”

- contrast between external appearance of success and internal sense of failure (poem „Richard Cory”):

Richard Cory

We people on the pavement looked at him:

He was a gentleman from sole to crown,

Clean favored, and imperially slim.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,

And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;

And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,

Went home and put a bullet through his head.

The poem takes a sudden turn in the final stanza, revealing that despite his outward perfection and the envy he inspires, Richard Cory takes his own life. The poem explores themes of social class, the disparity between appearance and reality, and the impact of societal expectations on an individual's internal struggles. It serves as a commentary on the complexities of human nature and the potential disparity between external success and internal well-being.

American Dream.


Miniver Cheevy

fragment of Robinson’s comic self-portrait ”Miniver Cheevy”


Miniver loved the days of old

Miniver Cheevy, born too late


The poem "Miniver Cheevy" explores the character of Miniver, a man who is dissatisfied with his own time and romanticizes the past. The poem delves into the theme of escapism and the desire to live in a different era, one that seems more glorious and heroic. Miniver's fascination with the "days of old" reflects a yearning for a time he perceives as more noble and exciting than his contemporary reality. The poem goes on to describe Miniver's discontent with the present and his tendency to escape into fantasies of the past as a way of coping with his dissatisfaction.

Alcoholism he talks about it was a problem in the parts of the world from where he came from and his problem for some time.


Edgar Lee Masters

          representative of Chicago Renaissance

          themes of working class or small-town life

          most important work: Spoon River Anthology (1915)

Spoon River Anthology:

          free verse poems


          approachable, natural, plain diction

          miniature tales of speakers’ lives

          elegiac tone

          various life situations and stories

          coming to terms with their faults, failures, but also affirming values of honesty, fortitude,

          facing the necessities of life with austere morality and stoicism


Robinson Jeffers

          - poet of the return to the pre-human or non-human

          - praises wild shores of California

          - seeks the landscapes untainted by civilization

          - creates visions of mythical, or mystic union between the human and divinity or the non-human

          - ”Roan Stallion” (1925) – long narrative poem with elements of mystic vision; an attempt to bring together the human, the non-human, the divine

          - repudiation of the pieties of humanism for the sake of „Inhumanism” – the (proto)-ecological and philosophical idea which decenters the human from its usual place of dominance over the natural element (an anticipation of what today is called post-humanist studies).

          - his goal: ”to uncentre the human mind from itself” (the post-humanist perspective)

          - meditation on the limits of civilization, or the end of civilization

Robinson Jeffers' concept of "inhumanism" is a philosophical stance urging a shift away from human-centric views. Inhumanism advocates for recognizing the intrinsic value of nature and emphasizes a humble acknowledgment of humanity's place within the vastness of the universe. Jeffers challenges human exceptionalism, encouraging individuals to embrace the cosmic realities and find meaning in the interconnectedness of all existence. Inhumanism does not deny the harsh realities of life but promotes a broader, nature-centered perspective.


Vulture (1963)

I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten
by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes


In these lines, the speaker expresses a solemn acknowledgment of being sorry for having disappointed the vulture. There's a sense of acceptance and a willingness to become a part of the vulture, to be consumed by its beak and become one with its wings and eyes. The poem delves into the harsh realities of the natural world, portraying the vulture as a symbol of both death and renewal, and the speaker seems to find a certain transcendence in the idea of becoming one with the vulture.

During the part of the poem the speaker try to fantasize what would it be like to be eaten by the bird to become one with the bird and thus becoming closer to nature, he wonders what the bird would feel like.


Carmel Point

As for us:

We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;

We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident

As the rock and ocean that we were made from.


In these lines, Jeffers expresses a philosophical idea similar to his concept of "inhumanism." The speaker encourages a shift in perspective, asking the reader to uncenter their minds from themselves and unhumanize their views. The idea is to move away from a self-centered and anthropocentric worldview, embracing a broader, more humble understanding of existence. By invoking the imagery of the "rock and ocean," Jeffers suggests finding confidence in the enduring and elemental aspects of nature, emphasizing our connection to the larger cosmos. This reflects Jeffers' broader themes of nature, cosmic interconnectedness, and the importance of transcending human-centric perspectives.



Robert Frost

- born in S. Francisco but lived in New England

- travelled to England where he gained critical recognition

- his first book, Boy’s Will (1912) brought out in England

- remotely identified with the English „Georgian” poets

- returns to the US in 1915 and buys a farm again in New Hamsphire

- became one of the most successful and popular American poets of the 20th century

- was selected to be president’s J. F. Kennedy’s ”poet laureate” and read at Kennedy’s inauguration

- traditional form in tension with romantic vision

- plain speech imitating the language of small town or village New Englanders

Forms and themes

- ability to mold this simple language into traditional poetic patterns

- the voice of a shrewd, ironic village sage who speaks in riddles

- philosophy of a poem in his essays “The Figure a Poem Makes”: it is a following of a first impression found in nature and arriving at a transitory resolution, a „momentary stay against confusion”

- critique of the Emersonian tradition of trust on transcendental orders

- critique of the Transcendentalist sense of unity with orders of the Spirit represented in nature

- but also follows the Emersonian – first impulse comes from nature and guides the lyrical subject in his quests

- the general Romantic impulse – as in Wordsworth – the first impulse toward reflection comes from close contact with nature; unlike in Wordsworth – in Frost there is no difference between the idea of work with nature and the idea of the poetic

- pragmatist aesthetics – working with the material presence of the world – beginning to replace standard Romantic beliefs (nature is a material presence with which we interact, not a channel to a non-material spirit)

- Darwinian perception of nature (nature chaos and accident with the moral element absent from it)

- qt from Trilling on Frost: he was the great poet of contemporary tragic vision, evoking a "terrifying

universe" of exposure and emptiness, the romantic vacancies of modern secular life.

Robert Frost and Edwin Arlington Robinson share commonalities in their use of realism, narrative styles, and exploration of dark themes in their poetry. Both poets depict everyday life and ordinary people in their work. However, Frost's outlook tends to be more optimistic and pragmatic, aligning him with modernism, while Robinson is often associated with late Romanticism or a transition toward modernism. Despite their differences, both poets contribute uniquely to American poetry, each with distinct voices and perspectives.


The Road Not Taken

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever


These lines reflect the speaker's contemplation and uncertainty about the future. The speaker acknowledges the reality that once a choice is made, it sets them on a certain path, and the possibilities of other paths become less likely. The doubts about returning suggest a recognition of the irreversibility of choices and the unpredictable nature of life's journey.



-          The scene is of utter cruelty but every creature is wild the spider, flower and the butterfly

-          Spider hides in the flower hunting and butterfly flies and wants to land at it

-          There is no design at all? Or there might be a design

-          The chaos controls the nature

Desert Places

-          The speaker is attracted to the bland raw landscape

-          Things will become even blanker, the speaker says that the empty spaces cannot scare him 

-          The darkness of the space terrifies me, it is scary to be a human on this earth

-           Pascal mathematician


-          Sound of the poem is connected with doing specific work outside

-          “The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows” pentameter

-          It isn’t much but it honest work Frost farmer


-          There is a boy who bends birches and swings on ‘em, it’s a metaphor to swinging up from the earth, but later coming back. He’s reading it little to fast based on Professor Bartczak’s opinion. 

-          Male competition between father and son Freudian idea

Mending Wall

-          “Good fences make good neighbors”

-          The other person in the poem keeps repeating the same sentence, the sentence he learned from his father


The rhythm in Frost’s poem is iambic which is natural for the speaker, it is associated with simple poets from the countryside

“It begins in delight and ends in wisdom” that’s the rule he uses in his poems.

Poem is something to come closer to the initial feeling of delight, but its purpose is to end in clarification.


Modernism in poetry

1. General problems with the meaning of the term modernism

Modernism has been used to connote a vast group of phenomena in culture, aesthetics, arts, and politics. Here is a selective list of the phenomena that have been at times included or described as modernist:

-          aesthetic experiment, innovation in form, formal self-consciousness

-          the outbursts of “isms”: cubism, Dadaism, surrealism,

-          aesthetics of fragment, collage, and montage

-          the crisis of unifying structures, such as the mythological structures; breaking with traditions

-          the attempt to regain or re-think various “ideas of order”, that is various deep structures supposed to underlie the organization of everyday life: mythologies, religions, traditions

-          the idea of the linear technological progress of societies and a crisis of this idea

-          mass state planning, management of the masses, architecture in the service of society



          Ezra Pound and ”imagism”

          to objectify experience by using economical language

          to objectify emotion

          to bring thought and feeling back together in poetry

          focus on craft and the knowledge of traditions

          T. S. Eliot and biographical experience in poetry

          the poet is a medium that transforms individual experience into a work of art

          individual emotionality is filtered through form

          poetry goes back to ancient patterns of experience

          Pound and Eliot’s combined influence (poetry and prose):


          precision, objectivity

          knowledge of traditions

T.S. Eliot

Dissociation of sensibility

Suffering poet - romanticism 

Elliot “tradition and the individual talent”

Tradition - order that doesn’t belong to any author

Poet’s mind is a catalyst of the reaction (writing)


Eliot’s ”Tradition and Individual Talent” (1919)

The point of view which I am struggling to attack is perhaps related to the metaphysical theory of the substantial unity of the soul: for my meaning is, that the poet has, not a "personality" to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways.

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.


Fragment from Pound’s article, ”A Retrospect”

In the spring or early summer of 1912, “H. D.,” Richard Aldington and myself decided that we were agreed upon the three principles following:

    Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.

    To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.

    As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.


In a Station of the Metro

By Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

Petals on a wet, black bough.



By H. D. (Hilda Dolittle)

Whirl up, sea—

whirl your pointed pines,

splash your great pines

on our rocks,

hurl your green over us,

cover us with your pools of fir.


перерыв на чудо рисунок

T.S. Eliot's idea of impersonality in poetry, as outlined in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," emphasizes the importance of detaching the poet's personal emotions and experiences from the work. Instead, the poet becomes a conduit for universal truths, using objective correlatives and drawing on literary tradition to achieve a more enduring and timeless quality in their art. Impersonality, in Eliot's view, is not a denial of the poet's self but a means of achieving a higher level of artistic integrity and contributing to the ongoing evolution of literature.


William Carlos Williams

          a family doctor

          after meeting Pound revolutionizes his verse alongside the general „Imagist” tradition in the years 1913-1917

          1917 – Al Que Quiere!

          Spring and All (1923) – combination of prose and free verse

          main theme: imagination as confrontation with mundane reality

          Paterson: a long book poem in five volumes, tribute to life, culture and localities of Paterson, New Jersey (1946-1958)

          general themes and features:

          imagist free verse,

          locality, the local culture and genuine local languages

          love, imagination, power of creativity

The Red Wheelbarrow 

         Presence of language as a material creating poetry

         Words being presented upon a page

         Very simple object


Obraz zawierający tekst, owoce

Opis wygenerowany automatycznie - “This is just to say”

"Paterson" is a long poem by William Carlos Williams, published in five books between 1946 and 1958. It explores the city of Paterson, New Jersey, and its inhabitants, addressing themes such as art, love, and politics. The poem is known for its innovative structure, incorporating prose, verse, and various forms to capture the multifaceted nature of the city and broader human experiences.


Wallace Stevens

- born in Pennsylvania, studied at Harvard, lived in NYC

- became a lawyer, moved to Hartford, Ct., worked in an insurance company

- associated with NY artistic milieu,

- didn't publish much, started writing in his student years at Harvard (around 1916), very late debut

- Harmonium (1923) his first collection

Main themes and forms:

- influence of Keats and Whitman,

- life of imagination in highly crafted language

- American locality in more abstract terms than in Williams

- the role of aesthetic structures in participating in cognitive (mental) operations of knowing reality; the role of aesthetics in formulating and maintaining beliefs

Example from Stevens: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, “Anecdote of the Jar”, “The Snow Man”

Wallace Stevens employed a diverse range of vivid and often abstract imagery in his poetry. His approach included both concrete, tangible images and more abstract, symbolic elements, creating a nuanced exploration of sensory and intellectual experiences.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird


Among twenty snowy mountains,  

The only moving thing  

Was the eye of the blackbird.  


I was of three minds,  

Like a tree  

In which there are three blackbirds.  


The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.  

It was a small part of the pantomime.  


A man and a woman  

Are one.  

A man and a woman and a blackbird  

Are one.



Cubistic attempt of looking 

 Different ways of looking at a bird, different perspectives

 Each poem contains a blackbird



Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,

And round it was, upon a hill.

It made the slovenly wilderness

Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,

And sprawled around, no longer wild.

The jar was round upon the ground

And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion everywhere.

The jar was gray and bare.

It did not give of bird or bush,

Like nothing else in Tennessee.


Reverse of The Snow Man:

 In this poem the things are added instead of being subtracted

 Radical: There is nothing there, until the jar appears

 Colonial poem, because of the mention of Tennessee which is a native name, And Stevens  says that there is nothing there



The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter

To regard the frost and the boughs

Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time

To behold the junipers shagged with ice,

The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think

Of any misery in the sound of the wind,

In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land

Full of the same wind

That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,

And, nothing himself, beholds

Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


Begins with the landscape, gradually substracts the elements:

 First the vision is switched off, he’s looking at the sun which blinds ‘im

 Then he stops hearing, because of over exposure to the same sound

 Forget about the concept the visual stimuli it’s like a mind game.




Gertrude Stein

          organized an open house/salon for the support of arts in Paris

          supported the work of painters

          supported and promoted  of writers (Pound, Hemingway)

          literary equivalent of the cubism

formal ideas:

          her poetry exposes the material medium of literature

          underlining the peripheral parts of speech

          experiment in syntax and semantics

          anticipates late 20th c. poetry of linguistic experiment

          ”If I Told Him” – a literary portrait of Pablo Picasso

Stanzas in Meditation

It is remarkable how quickly they learn

But if they learn and it is very remarkable how quickly they learn

It makes not only but by and by

And they can not only be not here

But not there

Which after all makes no difference

After all this does not make any does not make any difference

I add added it to it.

I could rather be rather be here.



Tender Buttons

-          Domestic objects, she tries to present them

-          She describes objects without talking about their visuality and without mentioning them

-          Clash of abstract and the particular

-          It’s a complex play of mind and object, and not the simple object described in a realistic way

-          She plays with language, she uses a sentence and does not continue it which is unexpected for the reader 



Harlem Renaissance

I. Social and political background

the failure of Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War:

a. 14th and 15th Amendments (political reintegration of Blacks into the American society – access to the democratic process)

b. growing opposition to racial integration in the South

c. the Compromise of 1876: the act which effectively signals the withdrawal of the federal government from the process of racial reintegration in the South; the political/historical consequences: growing division and enmity between the racially different populations in the South

d. Plessy v. Fergusson Supreme Court Decision (1896): the American Supreme Court decrees the legality of the segregation of schools under the maxim of “separate but equal”; the decision reinforces the existing racial division of American society in the South

e. results: increased migration North of the black populations from the South to the cities in the North: Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City; Harlem (originally white middle-class area) becomes a center for black writers and musicians


major ideas of Black American cultural identity:



1. Booker T. Washington:

”adjustment and submission” (this phrase from Du Bois)

· proposes didactic/positivist program of self—education and progress

· utilitarian, vocational education

· mutual trust and aid between white and black population

· problem from later perspective: it advocates the model in which this trust is to be mutual but the white and black population remain separate

· emulation of Benjamin Franklin pattern of self-progress (so it emulates white patterns)


2. W.E.B. Du Bois

· one of the founders of NAACP (1909)

· editor of Crisis, the NAACP periodical (1910-1934)

· The Souls of Black Folk (1903) – his most important book publication

· critique of B.T. Washington model – it accepts the Negro’s inferiority and shifts the racial problem ”to the Negro’s shoulders”

· describes the awkward and social positioning of the black mind in American society with the phrase: ”double consciousness of the Negro”

· the Afro-American personality is blocked from true self-consciousness

· Blacks see themselves through the perceptions of others

· ”It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others”

· special insight and special knowledge; but also a blocking of one’s own development through self-assertion


3. Alain Locke

- a series of speeches “Race Contacts and Interracial Relations”:

o The idea of racial pride and identity independent from white culture

o no such thing as racial inferiority: racial inferiority is a social construct created in order to dominate

o talk of “race” is really talk of a history of dominance (not of anthropological difference)

- The New Negro (1925) – a collection of essays on black, Afro-American culture and art

- The idea of racial/ethnic self-affirmation

- Racial/ethnic division is to be overcome not through elimination of the thinking about race but through open cultivation of Afro-American identity


Countee Cullen

          ”to be a poet, not a Negro poet”

          Color (1925) – his most important collection

          formal poetry based on Romantic models

          the influence of Keats

          follows the poetic convention

          respect for white poets of traditional meter

          much in the center of the black cultural mainstream

          praised by white academic critics

          problem: is the African-American poet limited to the themes of race

          tension in Cullen’s poetry: ”My color shrouds me” [Q]

          Robert Hayden’s defense of Cullen: why should a black poet be evaluated on grounds that are different from those applied to white poets

          1930 – marriage to Nina Yolande du Bois


The Shroud of Color (fragment)

“Lord, being dark,” I said, “I cannot bear
The further touch of earth, the scented air;
Lord, being dark, forewilled to that despair
My color shrouds me in, I am as dirt
Beneath my brother's heel; there is a hurt
In all the simple joys which to a child
Are sweet; they are contaminate, defiled
By truths of wrongs the childish vision fails
To see; too great a cost this birth entails.


Yet Do I Marvel

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

In these lines, Cullen expresses a sense of irony or astonishment at the idea of being both a black person and a poet. The phrasing suggests a recognition of the challenges and complexities that come with being a black poet, as if it is a peculiar or unique situation. The poet seems to grapple with the intricacies of his identity and the expectations placed upon him as both a black individual and a creator of art. "Yet Do I Marvel" is a contemplative poem that explores themes of faith, race, and the enigmatic nature of existence.

Cluade McKay

          born in Jamaica in 1889

          studies poetry early on, mostly the British patterns

          arrives in the U.S. in 1912

          contests the models for black identity – even those coming from Du Bois and Locke [Q]

          1922 - his most important volume of poetry, Harlem Shadows

          critical opinion: the volume announces the Harlem Renaissance

          central poem ”If We Must Die” – written in response to racial riots in American cities in 1919

          the poem establishes him as a poet of the militant stance toward the racial problem

          in his other poems he celebrates the vibrant, sensual life of Harlem

McKay wrote “To the White Fiends” as a challenge to white oppressors and bigots. It was the 1917 version of “you got me all the way fucked up”, playing into the stereotypical fears perpetuated by white supremacy that Black people are savages.


If We Must Die (1919)

If we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursèd lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!


The poem is a rallying cry against racial injustice and a call for resistance in the face of violence and oppression. McKay urges his fellow African Americans to face their adversaries courageously, even in the face of death, rather than passively accept the violence inflicted upon them.



Langston Hughes

-          born in Missouri

-          spends his younger years in Midwest

-          arrives in New York City in 1921 to study at Columbia

-          ”The Negro Speaks of Rivers” published in 1920

-          his poetry takes from the influence of the black music traditions: jazz and blues

-          influence of Claude McKay, Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman

-          doesn’t finish education at Columbia

-          later in life turns to prose and theater


-          commitment to the idea of separate and independent black identity

-          advocate of racially independent culture

-          ”Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro – and beautiful” (in ”The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926) [Q]


The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen  its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


The poem is a powerful exploration of the history and heritage of African Americans, connecting the speaker's identity with ancient rivers that have witnessed the passage of time. Hughes uses the metaphor of rivers to symbolize the deep roots and enduring strength of the African American experience. The poem spans different geographical locations and historical periods, reflecting the rich and complex history of Black people.


Differences in the concepts of how to write the poetry of Black cultural identity:

Countee Cullen:

Style and Form: Cullen often employed traditional poetic forms and structures. His poetry was characterized by meticulous craftsmanship, formal elegance, and a sophisticated use of language.

Cultural Dualism: Cullen's work sometimes explored the tension between his African American heritage and the influence of European literary traditions. He grappled with themes of racial identity and cultural dualism.

Claude McKay:

Versatility and Themes: McKay was known for his versatility, writing both traditional and modernist poetry. His works ranged from sonnets to more politically charged and socially conscious pieces.

Social and Political Commentary: McKay's poetry often delved into issues of racial and social injustice. His work, such as the famous poem "If We Must Die," reflects a more overt engagement with political and social concerns.

Langston Hughes:

Innovative Language and Style: Hughes is often celebrated for his innovative use of language, incorporating the rhythms and idioms of African American culture into his poetry. He embraced a more colloquial and accessible style.

Celebration of Black Culture: Hughes celebrated the beauty and resilience of Black culture. His poetry frequently featured the everyday lives of Black people, their struggles, joys, and cultural expressions. He played a crucial role in portraying the diverse experiences of Black Americans.


Ernest Hemingway

"The Sun Also Rises" (1926):

Lost Generation: Hemingway, like the characters in this novel, was a part of the Lost Generation—those who came of age during World War I and were disillusioned by the impact of the war. The characters grapple with a sense of aimlessness and the search for meaning in a post-war world.

"A Farewell to Arms" (1929):

World War I Service: Hemingway served as an ambulance driver during World War I, and his experiences influenced the depiction of war in this novel. The protagonist's wartime experiences reflect Hemingway's own, and the novel explores the impact of war on individuals and relationships.

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1940):

Spanish Civil War: Hemingway reported on the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, and these experiences informed the setting and themes of the novel. The story follows an American dynamiter fighting for the Republicans, reflecting the complexities of war and the struggles for justice.

Overall Motifs:

Minimalist Prose Style: Hemingway's life in journalism and his desire for precision and simplicity in writing are evident in his prose style. He favored short sentences and sparse descriptions, often leaving much unsaid, allowing readers to infer emotions and meanings.

Themes of Love and Loss: Hemingway's relationships, particularly his four marriages, influenced the themes of love and loss in his works. The tragic aspects of love and the impact of personal relationships on individuals are recurring motifs.

Adventurous Lifestyle: Hemingway's adventurous life, including experiences in bullfighting, big-game hunting, and deep-sea fishing, is mirrored in his characters' pursuits of adventure and challenges. His love for outdoor activities and the thrill of danger often feature prominently in his works.



Main themes and ideas:

          stylistic clarity, discipline, (stylistic influences: journalism, imagism)

          modernity/imagism – through stylistic discipline to self-discipline in confronting life’s emptiness

          stance of dignity, courage, self-honesty in the face of life’s brutality

          existential stance of confronting nothingness in post-religious world

          writing as an exercise in self-discipline

          to get to the ”truth” of the emotional and physical experience

          affirmation of the immediate physical experience

          battling a sense of loss and danger

          masculinity: its portrayal and crisis

”Men at War”

'His standard of fidelity to the truth should be so high that his invention, out of his experience, should produce a truer account than anything factual can be.'' And he also wrote: ''Find what gave you the emotion, what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it so clear that . . . it can become a part of the experience of the person who reads it.''


”There was no grass beside the road. Looking back we could see the country spread out below. Far back the fields were squares of green and brown on the hillsides. Making the horizon were the brown mountains. They were strangely shaped. As we climbed higher the horizon kept changing. As the bus ground slowly up the road we could see other mountains coming up in the south. Then the road came over the crest, flattened out, and went into a forest.” (from The Sun Also Rises)


”Big Two-Hearted River”

“The Sun Also Rises”

Romero's bull-fighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him close each time. He did not have to emphasize their closeness. Brett saw how something that was beautiful done close to the bull was ridiculous if it were done a little way off. I told her how since the death of Joselito all the bull-fighters had been developing a technic that simulated this appearance of danger in order to give a fake emotional feeling, while the bull-fighter was really safe. Romero had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through the maximum of exposure, while he dominated the bull by making him realize he was unattainable, while he prepared him for the killing.

Each time he let the bull pass so close that the man and the bull and the cape that filled and pivoted ahead of the bull were all one sharply etched mass. It was all so slow and so controlled. It was as though he were rocking the bull to sleep.

-          The mention of "the maximum of exposure" implies that Romero is able to maintain his composure and skill even in the face of great danger and under intense scrutiny from the audience. The quote reflects Hemingway's admiration for the traditional values of skill and purity in the art of bullfighting, which is a significant theme in the novel.


on writing, talent, self-discipline in ”The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

”But he would never do it, because each day of not writing, of comfort, of being that which he despised, dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all.”

- "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is a short story that explores themes of regret, mortality, and the impact of choices. In this particular passage, the protagonist reflects on the consequences of not engaging in the creative act of writing, which he values deeply. The fear of losing the ability to work, of succumbing to a life that goes against his artistic principles, adds a poignant layer to the story's exploration of the human condition.

“He had destroyed his talent himself. Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook. What was this? A catalogue of old books? What was his talent anyway?”

Ernest Hemingway's journalistic experience, including his collaboration with Esquire magazine, significantly shaped his writing style. His journalism background emphasized clarity, simplicity, and attention to detail, influencing his novels and short stories. The focus on authentic dialogue and realism in his literary works can be traced back to his experience as a journalist.


F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald's major novels embody a symmetrical shift between the 1920s and the 1930s. "The Great Gatsby" reflects the excesses of the Jazz Age, while "Tender Is the Night" and "The Last Tycoon" depict the cultural and personal crises of the Great Depression era. This symmetry mirrors Fitzgerald's own life, transitioning from a period of conspicuous consumption to one marked by challenges and disillusionment.

Main themes:

          the doubleness within the American dream

          the mixture of idealism and materiality

          infatuation with the gaudiness of the age of luxury

          ”historian of the jazz age”

          capturing the moment of the growing wealth of American society

          recording the excess of that age, conspicuous consumption and crisis

          the same pattern reflected in Fitzgerald’s biography: the crisis of the 30’s as a price for overcostly living in the 20’s

          auto-biographical themes: reconning with one’s own infatuations with wealth and luxury

The Great Gatsby: main themes and ideas:

          main plot and story: life of a simple American who pursues the path of self-making and is destroyed by the discrepancy between his idealism and by the rigidity of class divisions within American society

          compared to Theodor Dreiser’s Sister Carrie – the question of the relations to the naturalistic pattern (how far is the main hero self-defined and how much is he overdetermined)

          GG – not a naturalistic social novel

          life on the edge (jazz age), forgetting the war, living with a ”presentiment of disaster”

          the comparison between various characters, representing various social classes and life choices

Gatsby as a character

          from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby

          born to a poor family, adventurous career of self making, morally careless acquisition of money in a society that worships money

          modelled on traditional patterns of American liberal individualism (Benjamin Franklin)

          mixture of brutishness, idealism, ”appalling sentimentality” imaginative excess, ”capacity for wonder”, ”some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life”

          what is the American dream: the question of American vitality/vitalism (Gatsby as a character who wants to be bigger than the defining material circumstances)

          the connection between the narrator (Nick Carraway), the protagonist (Gatsby), and the author: moral imagination within a society of rigid social structure; the theme of resistance to this rigidity

the Buchanans

          the moneyed class (inherited wealth and social privilege)

          moral complacency and irresponsibility

          Tom Buchanan: a mixture of obtuseness and skillful manipulation of others

          opposition to Gatsby: Tom represents the brutish materiality ingrained in American history

          Tom always gets what he wants because of his position in the social lader

          capacity to survive

          Tom and Daisy avoid the responsibility for causing the car accident, use Gatsby as scapegoat, and move on with their life

Nick Carraway

          Fitzgerald’s alter ego (but so is Gatsby)

          the significance  of his name (”get carried away”)

          a way of distancing himself from his own experience

          a way of finding an objectifying lens on the story with which Fitzgerald himself is emotionally involved

          his relation to Gatsby: mixture of awe, attraction, respect, but also revulsion

          Nick Carraway is considered an unreliable narrator in "The Great Gatsby" due to his personal involvement in the story, biases, moral judgments, selective memory, idealization of certain characters, social class influences, and the presence of ambiguity and irony in his narrative. These factors contribute to a subjective portrayal of events and characters, raising questions about the accuracy and completeness of his storytelling.

the Wilsons

          Myrtle and George Wilson

          the working class

          alienated from the American dream

          George is spiritually broken

          Myrtle (Tom’s lover) and her dream of social advancement

style and narrative structure

          language: rich, elegant, crafted

          style corresponds to the cultural risk of the rich America: the problem of style over substance

          modernist craft and psychological insight from Henry James

          fragmented way of telling the protagonist’s main story

          many different characters provide the reader with info on Gatsby

cultural significance

          early reception not favorable: H. L. Mencken: ”[GG] no more than a glorified anecdote”

          Lionel Trilling (1950’s): Gatsby will lose his magnetism

          numerous film adaptations

          recurring story of the cycle of exuberant, reckless growth and crisis

          in this, the critique of the American capitalism

          the most recent adaptation (2013): emphasizes the gaudy, glossy, grotesque side of the America from before the 2008 financial crash

          Baz Luhrmann’s „The Great Gatsby” is lurid, glamorous, trashy, tasteless, seductive, sentimental, aloof and artificial. It’s an excellent adaptation, in other words of Fitzgerald’s… American classic” (from a review)

          the novel as interpreted by the most recent adaptation – about infatuation with dreaming itself; America as a state of always insatiable mind

It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.

…five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves.

…face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

^Цитаты из гэтсби понимайте как хотите


William Faulkner

Main themes:

          place, locality, closed universe of a small community (Yoknapatawpha county, modelled on Faulkner’s Lafayette county)

          the local/particular vs. the universal/mythological

          the individual determined by history, psychology (instincts), culture/tradition

          Confrontation with history: of one’s own family and communal

          History as entrapment and the act of telling the story as an attempt to be liberated from it

          Recreation of experience, reconnection to experience

          world explanation through story-telling, effort to find words to tell the story

          repetition, revision, reliving of the events: multiple narrators telling the story of one person or one event

          recuperating the dignity and humanity of the old South

          the South: tradition, history, psychology

          Civil War and its memory: the need to recreate the region, to go through change

          changing economic realities

          cultural identity of the South

          the device of ”incessant talking” as insight into problems of the South:

          racial problems of the past (slavery) and present (racial prejudice)

          class problems – poverty

          social caste problems (the rooted ”aristocracy” of the place and the shiftless newcomers)

          ”moral function of the novel” in ”moral seriousness of the form” (Ralph Ellison)

The Sound and the Fury (1929)

          Four narrators telling the story that revolves around a girl, Caddie, who is a central, yet absent character

          Benjy – mentally handicapped, his need for shelter and home;

          fragmentation signifying loss

          primal proximity of the world, primal openness to the world

          most objective and direct images of the sister

          Quentin – closed in his own obsessions and desires, desperate search for order:

          fear of time – both past and future

          the South and its imprisonment in time (the present as repetition of the past)

          Jason – limited through his materialism, need to blame others

          4th narrator: traditional omniscient narration

          the point of this composition: trying to reach to the sister (Caddie – ”the absent presence”)

As I Lay Dying (1930)

          the story of the death of Addie Bundren told by fifteen narrators, both her own family and other people

          the central event is Addie’s death and the attempts of her family to transport the coffin to the forty-mile distant Jefferson

          linearity of the main story contrasts with the much less coherent internal lives of the narrators

          the mythical quality of the effort by the family to transport the coffin despite the elements

Absalom, Absalom! (1936)

          story of Thomas Sutpen, born in West Virginia, who moves to the South, intent on founding his own plantation empire

          several narrators: Quentin Compson, Quentin’s father, Rosa Coldfield

          non-chronological narration uncovers complex family past racial prejudice of the protagonist

          The subsequent tellings reveal more about the biases of the narrators than about the main plot

          narratives are strategies of evasion and self-justification: the narrators interpret events in ways that are convenient to their world-views

one of the fragments repesenting Vardaman’s narration in As I Lay Dying

Then I begin to run. I run toward the back and come to the edge of the porch and

stop. Then I begin to cry. I can feel where the fish was in the dust. It is cut

up into pieces of not-fish now, not-blood on my hands and overalls. Then it

wasn't so. It hadn't happened then. And now she is getting so far ahead I cannot

catch her.

"He kilt her. He kilt her."

The life in him runs under the skin, under my hand, running through the

splotches, smelling up into my nose where the sickness is beginning to cry,

vomiting the crying, and then I can breathe, vomiting it. It makes a lot of

noise. I can smell the life running up from under my hands, up my arms, and then

I cart leave the stall.


My mother is a fish.



“The Bear”

It ran in his knowledge before he ever saw it. It looked and towered in his dreams before he even saw the unaxed woods where it left its crooked print, shaggy, huge, red-eyed, not malevolent but just big—too big for the dogs which tried to bay it, for the horses which tried to ride it down, for the men and the bullets they fired into it, too big for the very country which was its constricting scope. He seemed to see it entire with a child’s complete divination before he ever laid eyes on either—the doomed wilderness whose edges were being constantly and punily gnawed at by men with axes and plows who feared it because it was wilderness, men myriad and nameless even to one another in the land where the old bear had earned a name, through which ran not even a mortal animal but an anachronism, indomitable and invincible, out of an old dead time, a phantom, epitome and apotheosis of the old wild life at which the puny humans swarmed and hacked in a fury of abhorrence and fear, like pygmies about the ankles of a drowsing elephant: the old bear solitary, indomitable and alone, widowered, childless, and absolved of mortality—old Priam reft of his old wife and having outlived all his sons.

Examples of stylistic/narratorial technique:

- from As I Lay Dying – the way a child character’s consciousness deals with the dramatic experience of death and conceptualizes death through some primal symbolic mechanism (“my mother is a fish”); how is the individual connected with the more general/cultural in

the portrayal of this character (how does the boy’s psychology deal with the traumatic event of his mother’s death)

- from Absalom, Absalom! – the double movement of Faulkner’s long sentence – a push forward in preparation to hear the story (in one of the characters, Quentin Compson, who will also later be a commentator of the main story-line) counteracted with a strong pull backward in time connected with another character’s imprisonment in time, history, and memory

- from “The Bear” – on the way in which the character “knows” his region: this knowledge is pre-conscious, running it the deep psychological space of the unconscious




Women writers in the early 20th c.


         1820 – 1930 – 42 million immigrants in the US

         economic, social, demographic expansion West

         growth of wealth in big cities of the West

         changing role of women, radicalism of ”the new woman”

         ”On the New Woman” (1898), a satirical sketch that illustrates the social change

         the development of this phenomenon: from 1880’s to the 1920’s (Jazz Age)

         demystification of the ”fair sex”

         conscious, rational choice of self-development beyond convention (individualism)

         choice for making one’s own living outside family or marriage (away from the domestic literature)

         the woman’s modernity: individuality and creativity accessible to women

         beyond the duality model of the ”outward existence which conforms, the inward life which questions” (Kate Chopin)

Kate Chopin

 The Awakening (1899)

         the main character, Edna Pontellier, discovers her inner passions and needs, and, unable to realize them within the confines of her social milieu, commits suicide by drowning

         refuses to tolerate the duality of the inner need and social convention

         realist observation in the service of embodied, sensual consciousness

         the novel refuses to judge the heroine for taking control of her life

         [a tendency in naturalist fiction: the main character commits suicide:

         The Awakening

         Martin Eden (by Jack London)

         House of Mirth (by Edith Wharton)]


Charlotte Perkins Gilman

”The Yellow Wallpaper”

         woman’s creativity

         psychological condition of the creative married woman

         health, body, diet, gender problem: how to treat women’s intellectual activity

         and intellectual life – its accessibility for women

         writing and feminist awareness

         the story was first rejected by Atlantic Monthly

         published in New England Magazine (1892)

         Gilman became better known in her lifetime for her work in sociology (Women in Economics, 1898)

Edith Wharton

-          born 1862, New York, wealthy family, placed in the social hierarchy of the New Your city leisured class

-          1860’s/70’s – the family travels in Europe; receives education from hired tutors; fluent in French, Italian, German

-          1885 marries a man 13 years old her senior (divorces him in 1913)

-          late 1890’s – decides to devote herself to writing; lives in Paris after her divorce

-          themes: social convention and the woman’s capacity for self-realization in the conservative higher social class; possibilities of rebellion, inner conservatism

-          The Writing of Fiction (1925) – her artistic, aesthetic debt to H. James

-          The House of Mirth (1905) –

-          popular success

-          the limitations of a woman in upper class – between imaginative and social needs (complexity of the character: following a societal instruction vs. a wish to rebel)

-          similarities to Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (both women compromise their morality to break beyond their class limitations)

-          the heroine (Lily Bart) dies from overdose of a sedative (a shocking ending to readers of the day)

-          Ethan Frome (1911) --

-          a naturalist broken family story set in New England

-          sacrifice and hardship stronger than unrealized dreams

-          The Age of Innocence (1920) --

-          love story between a man (Newland Archer) and a woman (countess Ellen Olenska) divided by social convention

-          they are able to recognize their limitations and appreciate and respect their mutual choices

-          they realize they can only love each other if they give up on the relationship

Willa Cather

-          born in Virginia, moves with her family to Nebraska in 1883

-          lives on a frontier farm in Nebraska

-          family moves to a small Nebraska town

-          Lincoln, Nebraska (U of N)

-          moves to the East, writes stories for a Journal, works as a journalist (McClure’s Magazine)

-          her best novels are results of trips from New York to the South and the Midwest (regions on the frontier not so long ago)

-          she finds her material in the early life experience

-          themes: women in frontier regions

-          the relations to the land and its energies

-          the female character as embodiment of the land, its energies, cycles and moods

-          My Ántonia (1915) – after a trip back to Nebraska

-          the story of a woman, Antonia Shimerda (Czech descent), told by a male narrator (Jim Burden)

-          an American pastoral contrast between the male narrator’s mythologizing of the heroine and the mundane side of her life

-          the woman stands for strength against the weaknesses of the male narrator (his praise for her is a form of confession)

-          her life is one of dignity and fortitude within hardship

-          part of a larger social unit

-          natural rhythms – the narrator is already alienated from them

-          the role of women in the making of the West

-          romance, nostalgia, myth – vs. the realism of life in the rural West


Ellen Glasgow

         born in Richmond Virginia

         mother’s affection vs. father’s cold, Calvinist personality (”rock-ribbed with Calvinism”)

         ”Everything in me, mental and physical, I owe to my mother”

         her debt to her father: determination to succeed

         the sentimental traditions of the antebellum South

         participates in the women’s suffrage movement of the early 1900’s

         considered one of the founders of realism in the literature of the South

         considered a link between the Reconstruction and the Southern Renaissance

         first novel, The Descendant (1897) published anonymously, shocking to the public for the use of ”vulgar” language

“Barren Ground”

         published 1920

         heroine, Dorinda Oakley, is betrayed and forsaken by a man she loves

         suffers poverty

         decides to fight back to have her own life path restores a declining family farm

         the question of the land’s fertility: Dorinda restores it

         male-female relations: she is ”finished with all that”

         the life choice of hard work and fortitude: she gets close to the ”spirit of the land” for the price of individual emotional life


Realism in the American novel after WWII

Social backgrounds and challenges:

         The growing American affluence

         the US as the creditor of Europe

         the growth of American suburbia

         The ”present absence” of WWII memories

         the A bomb and the death camps as distant (?) realities

         Social homogeneity of the 50’s and its pressures

         emphasis on traditional gender roles

         repressed racial problem

         The beginnings of Cold War (later the threat of nuclear destruction)

         Decreasing transparency of American politics both domestic and foreign

Norman Mailer: introductory ideas

         undermining the stable, rational,  social and racial sense of class

         exposing the conflicts:

         racial: ”The White Negro”

         class: critique of the sterility of middle class

         gender: hidden misogyny, male/female as opposed elements/forces

         exposing the underlying fascist or totalitarian tendencies in American life

         flirt with violence – violence as a way of examining the pieties of social appeasement

         turning to his own self and his own crisis for material

         Expanding the formal scope of the novel: essay, journalism, autobiography

Mailer: selected titles

         The Naked and the Dead

         war as inhuman machine

         "The White Negro”

         personal problems (with drugs) and the homogenizing pressures of the social life

         flirt with violence, critique of Eisenhower era liberalism

         testing and provoking the racial difference

         the ”hipster” is a self-maker against convention, an existential rebel out against the homogenizing pressures of society

         ”The Man Who Studies Yoga”

         criticism of middle-class sterilizing effect on the writer

         Advertisements for Myself

         how to turn personal and creative crisis into a theme for a literary work (celebrity culture)

         similar gestures by other writers of the Times: R. Lowell and J. Baldwin

         searching for the idea of the ”hero” (Hemingway influence)

         form: novel, autobiography, essay, fact/fiction

         daring, risky experiments with gender roles – sex and violence

Opening fragments from ”The White Negro”, Mailer’s 1957 essay on the existential crisis and the need to rebel

Probably, we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc of the concentration camps and the atom bomb upon the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive in these years. For the first time in civilized history, perhaps for the first time in all of history, we have been forced to live with the suppressed knowledge that the smallest facets of our personality or the most minor projection of our ideas, or indeed the absence of ideas and the absence of personality could mean equally well that we might still be doomed to die as a cipher in some vast statistical operation.


Mailer, Norman. Advertisements for Myself (Penguin Modern Classics) (p. 537). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

There was a quality about her I could not locate, something independent – abruptly, right there, I knew what is was. In a year she would have no memory of me, I would not exist for her unless … and then it was clear … unless I could be the first to carry her stone of no-orgasm up the cliff, all the way, over and out into the sea…Yes I was getting excited at the naked image of me in the young-old mind of that.

”Like many a vain, empty, and bullying body of your time, I have been running for President the last ten years in the privacy of my mind, and it occurs to me I am less close now than when I began” (opening of Advertisements for Myself)

"The Naked and the Dead" is a novel written by Norman Mailer, published in 1948. The main topic of the novel revolves around the experiences of American soldiers during World War II, specifically in the Pacific theater. The narrative is set on the fictional island of Anopopei and follows the soldiers of a platoon as they participate in a brutal and challenging campaign against the Japanese.

The novel explores the psychological and physical toll of war on the soldiers, delving into their fears, struggles, and interpersonal dynamics. Mailer provides a detailed and often gritty portrayal of the harsh realities of combat, touching on themes such as leadership, camaraderie, and the dehumanizing effects of war.

"The Naked and the Dead" is considered one of the classic works of American war literature and is noted for its realism and its critical examination of the military and the individuals caught up in the machinery of war. The title itself reflects the vulnerability and exposure of the soldiers in the face of the brutality of war.


Saul Bellow

         confronting the growing chaos in American culture

         the individual crisis vs. the public culture

         Intellectual, cultural, philosophical heritage in confrontation with a disintegrating reality

         Novels of ideas (Dangling Man) – ideas as a bulwark against existential angst

         Intellectual comedy: intellectual characters in confrontation with highly non-intellectual, violent, incoherent reality

         male/female relations

         National Book Award (1953, 1970)

         Pulitzer Prize (1976)

         1976 – Nobel Prize


         study of a personal crisis of the protagonist (an aging intellectual)

         effort to maintain one’s intellectual and psychological integrity amidst personal/public pressures and crises

         novel of a state of mind (not of action)

         Bellow works with some of his biographical themes: confronting oneself, one’s identity, the writer’s problematic attitude toward women, his growing conservatism

         Hatred, being hurt, as forms of Energy [Q 252]

         The influence of Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Montaigne

         the protagonist’s ”letters” to the world: a method of portraying eroding sanity but also of introducing ideas

         The theme of not surrendering one’s sense of integrity, of one’s past, personality, character

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“Humboldt’s Gift”:

-          problem of the artistic debt to others [Q 261]

-          biographical element – relations to the poet Delmore Schwartz

-          artistic and intellectual personality coping with pressures of dynamic, incoherent, post-war reality

-          changing material realities of producing art in the US

-          intellectual comedy

-          tension between ideas and mundane, down to earth life

-          vitalist return to everydayness


J. D. Salinger

         Catcher in the Rye (1951)

         Holden Caulfield – a modern day Huck Finn. While Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn share some common characteristics as young protagonists navigating the challenges of adolescence, there are key differences in their socioeconomic backgrounds, educational experiences, and family dynamics. Holden is a middle-class student troubled by alienation, while Huck, an orphan with a lower socioeconomic status, faces a different set of challenges, including a lack of formal education. These distinctions shape their individual journeys and the lenses through which they view the world.

         Premonition of the dissatisfaction with the limitations and hypocrisies of the American ”affluent society” of the 1950’s

         Nine Stories (1953)

         Franny and Zooey (1961)

         Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963)

         Franny, Zooey, Seymour – eccentric individualists of the Glass family

         The writers withdraws from society in 1960’s



Poetry in mid-20th c.

Background situation of poetry after WWII:

         realist poetry of the war: Randall Jarell

         use of dream, archetype, mythology: W. H. Auden, R. Jarell, W. S. Merwin

         dominance of T. S. Eliot’s ideas about poetry

         New Criticism – academic formula of poetry that dominates in the 40’s and 50’s

         Reactions against academic establishment poetry in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s:

         Beat poets (50’s, 60’s): Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti

         Black Mountain poets (50’s): Charles Olson, Robert Creeley

         San Francisco Renaissance (40’s, 50’s): Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser

         New York (1st generation, 50’s, 60’s): John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler

         Confessional poetry – a style that evolves away from Eliot’s ideas, but remains partly ”academic”

         Confessional poetry is a poetic style that emerged in the mid-20th century, characterized by the intimate and personal revelations of the poet. The term "confessional" suggests that the poetry often delves into the poet's own experiences, emotions, and personal struggles. This genre is known for its candid and sometimes raw exploration of the poet's inner life, including topics such as relationships, mental health, and identity.

         New Criticism:

         academic continuation of High Modernism

         Academic formula evolved from the ideas of Eliot, Leavis, I. A. Richards

         The influence of Eliot (historical erudition and form, impersonality in creation), F. R. Leavis (liberal humanism), I. A. Richards (scientific approach to language)

         Cleanth Brooks’s ”well-wrought urn

         Brooks: ”the heresy of paraphrase”, the form of the poem is in its coherence

         William Empson: form is a resolution of ambiguities

         John C. Ransom: the poem reflects coherent hierarchies of society

         Allen Tate: ”good poem [is] a piece of craftsmanship, intelligible or cognitive object”

         Wimsatt and Beardsley: ”intentional fallacy” and ”affective fallacy”

         Wimsatt/Beardsley: poem is a ”a verbal icon”


Robert Lowell

          born in Boston, in a family whose traditions go back to the Puritan period

          began as a poet under the tutelage and guidance of New Criticism authorities (Allen Tate)

          Early poetry under the influence of Milton (complex rhetoric), but also the aesthetic ideas of Allen Tate

          Rebels against his father and looks for sources of authority; converts to Catholicism

          Lord Weary’s Castle (1946; Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1947):

          serious themes in symbolic treatments

          National history and religiousness

          complex, rhetorical, mostly impersonal style

Life Studies (1959)

Nautilus Island’s hermit

heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;

her sheep still graze above the sea.

Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer

is first selectman in our village;

she’s in her dotage

 The season’s ill—

we’ve lost our summer millionaire,

who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean


  Thirsting for

the hierarchic privacy

of Queen Victoria’s century,

she buys up all

the eyesores facing her shore,

and lets them fall.


”Skunk Hour” (continuation)


One dark night,

my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;

I watched for love-cars . Lights turned down,

they lay together, hull to hull,

where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .

My mind’s not right.Lowell openly wrote about his experiences with manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder) and institutionalization. His poetry often delves into the complexities of the human mind, the impact of mental illness, and the challenges of maintaining stability.

A car radio bleats,

“Love, O careless Love. . . .” I hear

my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,

as if my hand were at its throat. . . .

I myself am hell;

nobody’s here—

only skunks, that search

in the moonlight for a bite to eat.

They march on their soles up Main Street:

white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire

under the chalk-dry and spar spire

of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top

of our back steps and breathe the rich air—

a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail

She jabs her wedge-head in a cup

of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,

and will not scare.



Confessional poetry

          Rebellion against the idea of impersonality and return to the personal:

        family (family problems, childhood, relations to parents, portraits of other relatives)

        psychological crises and breakdowns, private and social taboos,

        marriage problems, crises, betrayals,

        the presence and importance of the bodily dimension

          The aesthetic task of confessional poetry

        distance to one’s experience found in craft


        Robert Lowell (Life Studies 1959, Notebook 1969, The Dolphin 1973, History 1973)

        W. D. Snodgrass (Heart’s Needle 1957)

        John Berryman (The Dream Songs 1969, Homage to Mistress Bradstreet)

        Elizabeth Bishop (Questions of Travel 1965, Geography III 1976, The Complete Poems 1983)

        Sylvia Plath (Ariel 1965, 2004, The Bell Jar 1963)

        Anne Sexton (All My Pretty Ones 1962)

Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath's "Ariel" is a significant collection of poems that showcases her artistic prowess and mastery of confessional poetry. The poems delve into themes of feminism, identity, and mental health, offering a deeply personal exploration of Plath's experiences. The collection is characterized by intense imagery, vivid language, and powerful symbolism, contributing to its lasting impact on the world of poetry. "Ariel" stands as a testament to Plath's unique voice and her ability to convey complex emotions through her art.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral

In my Victorian nightgown.

Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try

Your handful of notes;

The clear vowels rise like balloons.

(from ”Morning Song”)



Is an art, like everything else.  

I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.  

I do it so it feels real. (from „Lady Lazarus”)


The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.

Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe  

Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby

(from ”Tulips”)


You do not do, you do not do  

Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot  

For thirty years, poor and white,  

Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

(from ”Daddy”)



Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" is a villanelle that skillfully explores the theme of loss. Through a structured form and the repetition of key lines, Bishop creates a rhythmic and emotionally resonant exploration of the speaker's gradual acceptance of loss as an art that can be mastered. The poem moves from trivial losses to more profound ones, highlighting the challenging nature of accepting and coping with the inevitability of change and impermanence. Bishop's craft and artistry in the poem contribute to its enduring impact and the emotional depth of its exploration of loss.


One Art (a villanelle)


The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Начало формы 

”The Bight” (fragment)

At low tide like this how sheer the water is.
White, crumbling ribs of marl protrude and glare
and the boats are dry, the pilings dry as matches.
Absorbing, rather than being absorbed,
the water in the bight doesn't wet anything,
the color of the gas flame turned as low as possible.
One can smell it turning to gas; if one were Baudelaire
one could probably hear it turning to marimba music.
The little ochre dredge at work off the end of the dock
already plays the dry perfectly off-beat claves.
The birds are outsize. Pelicans crash
into this peculiar gas unnecessarily hard,
it seems to me, like pickaxes…

Click. Click. Goes the dredge,
and brings up a dripping jawful of marl.
All the untidy activity continues,
awful but cheerful.

Very detailed descriptions of the environment.


Richard Wright

          Native Son (1940)

          white society’s complicity in the criminalization of the novel’s protagonist, Bigger Thomas (the protagonist kills a white woman and rapes his girlfriend)

          his actions – fulfilling a prescribed scenario

”The day Native Son appeared, American culture was changed forever. No matter how much qualifying the book might later need, it made impossible a repetition of the old lies. In all its crudeness, melodrama, and claustrophobia of vision, Richard Wright’s novel brought out into the open, as no one ever had before, the hatred, fear, and violence that have crippled and may yet destroy our culture.” (These thoughts were echoed in Barack Obama’s speech on race.)

(Irving Howe, ”Black Boys and Native Sons”, 1963)

James Baldwin

-          novelist, essayist, playwright, script writer

-          born in Harlem, grew up there, witnessed Harlem social riots

-          harsh relationship with his step-father (a Baptist preacher)

-          stepfather: a person destroyed by his own bitterness evolved from experiencing social injustice

-          in his essays and novels often connected the personal/individual experience with its larger social significance

-          Notes of a Native Son (1955) – essays

-          diagnosed the condition of various social discriminations and exclusions in American society:



-          lived in Europe, after emigrating from the U.S. in 1948 (France, Switzerland)

Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953)

          autobiographical elements

          personal experience of various exclusions and discriminations and their symbolic meanings

          the protagonist is rejected by the stepfather (tagged as ”ugly”)

          problems of faith, religious conversion – father’s anger mixed with preacher’s talent

          relation between faith and the bodily experience of religion – religion is sensed, sensual

          the definition of the racial struggle in terms of the biblical moral struggle of good vs. evil

          style of the novel: the persisting spirit of zealous evangelism

          anatomy of Black pain, rage, dissatisfaction with American society

          anatomy of du Bois’s ”double consciousness”

Everybody’s Protest Novel (in Notes of a Native Son) –

critique of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Native Son for not paying attention to the authentic experience of being black in America

          Uncle Tom’s Cabin – sentimental Christian piety

          Wright’s The Native Son – simple reversal of Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s sentimentality

Black Boy Looks at the White Boy(a different essay published in Esquire in 1961)

          critique against Norman Mailer’s stereotyping the black man as the model of sexual virility

          Mailer’s writing: a fantasy of male Negro sexuality

“I think that I know something about American masculinity which most men of my generation do not know because they have not been menaced by it in the way that I have been. It is still true, alas, that to be an American Negro male is also to be a kind of walking phallic symbol: which means that one pays, in one’s own personality, for the sexual insecurity of others. The relationship, therefore, of a black boy to a white boy is a very complex thing.”

Ralph Ellison

          born in Oklahoma, moved to Alabama

          educated in segregated school system

          attended black college of Tuskegee in Alabama (studied music, played the trumpet)

          close to blues and jazz cultural developments of the 30’s

          early experience in the South: ”the signs and symbols that marked the dividing lines of segregation”

          meets Richard Wright in NYC in the 30’s

          Shadow and Act (1964) (litereary essays)

          one of the essays -- ”The World and the Jug”: ”Wright was no spiritual father of mine…”


Invisible Man (1952)

          a variation on the bildungsroman model

          picaresque, epic novel

          story line: a young black man trying to advance in life tries various alliances with various social groups, various forms of self-identifications

          always finds forms of abuse, discrimination, exploitation

          encounters forms of the phoniness of adult, organized, social and political life

          ends up in self-imposed exclusion (living in a cellar in the sewers)

          a tale of moving away from stable identity (modification of the bildungsroman pattern): identity is an improvisation

          problems with reception: Ellison did not want it to be read as only a novel about the black experience of exclusions and discrimination

          Irving Howe’s criticism of both Ellison and Baldwin for not taking up the more politically oppositional stance

major themes and plot structure of Invisible Man:

          the theme of identity creation in Invisible Man

          identity as an improvised experiment

          race – a fiction used and abused by social manipulators

          identity is a cultural product – created, not determined by biological data

          the protagonist in the novel – doesn’t have any clear identity – he is an object of others’ manipulation

          reversed Bildungsroman: the novel about unmaking of identity or imposed identities

          mockery of social formulas of respectability: racial, corporate, communist, middle class, working class, liberal

          styles in the novel: wordplay, satire, ideological burlesque, realistic detail


Postmodern fiction (self-reflexive fiction)

Postmodernism in American prose – general social and cultural contexts:

          sense of a break, or breach, in the coherence of American reality

          the assassination of JFK as the end of the era of social consensus

          beyond the realism and reality-recreation of the ”silent generation” (Mailer, Bellow, Salinger)

          pressing need to come to terms with the realities of wars and rethink the connection between politicians and society

          diversification of literary audiences beyond the sophistication of the High Modernism

Postmodernism in American prose – literary contexts:

          increased awareness of the novel (and poetry too) as form

          renewed interest in the beginnings of the novel as form (Cervantes, Sterne, Fielding, Diderot)

          revaluation of the novel as a digressive capacious form including a multitude of voices and perspectives

          growing interest in the research of Mikhail Bakhtin and his terms heteroglossia and dialogic form (the novel as dialogic form)

          relation between literature and linguistic theory (Derrida, R. Barthes)

          dominance of ”language”: he novel as ”language” (Ihab Hassan, William Gass)

          experimental rethinking of all other elements of the novel: plot, character

          self-reflexive fiction: the novel and its experimental extremes: death of the novel

          the ”exhaustion” of the forms of High Modernism –

          Donald Barthelme, ”After Joyce” (1964)

          ”the death of the novel” thesis (a group of critics)

          John Barth, ”The Literature of Exhaustion” (1967)

          John Barth, ”Literature of Replenishment” (1980)

          the significance of international late modernist writers:

          Samuel Beckett

          Jorge Luis Borges

          Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov

          Russian born, Came to the US in (1940), Taught at Cornell (1948-59)

          Lolita (1955)

          morally complex story in excessively rich language

          Form: linguistic excess, artifice of the plot

          Pale Fire (1962)

          an introduction, a poem, a commentary to the poem

          Three components, two voices, the question of the wholeness of this novel

"Lolita" by Vladimir Nabokov is often classified as a late-modernist novel due to its complex narrative structure, linguistic experimentation, and thematic exploration. The intricate storytelling, unreliable narration, and linguistic virtuosity contribute to the novel's status as a representative work of late-modernist literature. Nabokov's exploration of subjectivity and the challenging nature of the narrative align with the characteristics of the late-modernist literary movement.

"Pale Fire" by Vladimir Nabokov features an experimental structure characterized by a unique combination of poetry and commentary. The novel unfolds through a 999-line poem written by the fictional poet John Shade, followed by an extensive and unreliable commentary from Charles Kinbote, a neighbor of Shade. This intricate narrative structure adds layers of complexity, requiring readers to navigate between the perspectives of the characters and the interplay of fiction and reality. The result is a rich and challenging work that showcases Nabokov's mastery of literary experimentation.

John Barth

          Floating Opera (1956) – existentialist approaches

          ”Literature of Exhaustion” (1967) – a manifesto of the form of the postmodern novel

          ”The Literature of Replenishment” (1980)

          Lost in the Funhouse (1968)

          Chimera (1972) – using archetypal/mythical patterns of story-telling to ”replenish” the art of the narrative

The literature of exhaustion refers to a state in which traditional narrative forms, conventions, and storytelling techniques are perceived as worn out or depleted. Writers, according to Barth, had exhausted the possibilities of conventional storytelling, leading to a need for innovation and reevaluation of narrative approaches.

"Lost in the Funhouse" by John Barth exemplifies self-reflexive fiction or metafiction. The story is characterized by a heightened narrative awareness, featuring direct addresses to the reader and a deliberate exploration of the storytelling process. Through various narrative devices, Barth disrupts traditional literary forms, inviting readers to reflect on the artificiality of the narrative and the relationship between the author, the narrative, and the audience. Themes of identity, self-awareness, and the interplay between reality and fiction are woven into the story, making it a playful and experimental exploration of the boundaries of traditional storytelling.

”He being by vocation an author of novels and stories, it was perhaps inevitable that  that one afternoon the possibility  would occur to the writer of the these lines that his own life might be a fiction, on which he was the leading  or an accessory character”










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