The Modernist Movement

A guide to modernist writing and its features.

The literary modernist movement originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly focused in Europe and North America, often characterised by a self-conscious break with traditional ways of writing. This movement was driven by a desire to redesign traditional modes of representation and express the new ideals of their time. The duration and aftermath of WW1 saw the current assumptions about society reassessed and many modernist writers depict the technological advances and changes in society as the world moved into the 20th century.

Key features and characteristics of modernism texts include:

- Individualism

- the individual is often depicted to be more interesting than society as a whole.

- modernist writers often depict how the individual adapts to the changing world

- in some cases the characters triumph over obstacles

- Though these works mostly feature characters who just about keep their heads above

the water

- Modernist writers often present the world/society as a challenge to the integrity of

the characters.

- Experimentation

- Experimentation with the inner workings of consciousness

- Often the POV resembles a thought process

- Narrators are often self-aware and/or introspective

- Absurdity

- The senseless violence of war is commonly used as a sign that humanity has lost its


- Symbolism

- Modernist writers infused objects, people, places and events with significant


- Writers often left more to the reader's imagination

- Break with tradition

- Writers often displayed a strong reaction against established bilious, political and

social views

- Modernist writers also moved away from clear-cut moral views