How Did Modernism Evoke a Sense of Instability and Sense of Self in Society

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Modernism erupted in the late 19th century, in both literature and artistic values. Studying Literature and art side by side is a key factor for me in understanding the ways that modernism played a huge role in artist’s writing, paintings, and photographs. Modernism created a break in literature and gave an outlet to artist to create pieces that didn’t revolve around traditional ideas around literature. The literary movement was driven by the desire to overturn traditional ways because of the horrors from the First World War. It was an outlet for isolation in society, which is a common theme is many short stories and poetry. T.S Elliot and Franz Kafka are two literary figures who expressed modernism in the way that we are taught about it today. Modernism is a high example of some of the richest works that we are introduced to because it offers a look into how society shifted and how people overcame that specific change. (Posey, Modernism in the Metamorphosis) The way that it impacted people surrounding them was a common theme vs. the theme of how it affected the person internally. Modernism offers a complex look into the changing surroundings of inter personal relationships and the changing of an environment that was foreign yet vastly growing in the late 19th century and 20th century.

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Franz Kafka first published metamorphosis around 1915, which was around the beginning of the Literary modernist movement. Early modernist writers, like Kafka, broke the implicit contract with the general public and aimed to develop unreliable narratives that created an irrational view on certain life expectations that in sorts represented real life scenarios through the use of symbolism. Kafka had an interesting way of introducing human behaviors and how certain philosophies influenced that. Gregor is known for being isolated from his family because of the job he is in, and it shows how dissociated he is with himself and his surroundings. His experiences follow him as he thinks them and sometimes, we are introduced to aspects of him and his past and it makes us understand his present thoughts in a retrospective way (especially when he starts showing more bug characteristics). In modernism, many characters experienced sense of realization of their true self and how that influenced others around them. It is a prime example of how the society that was developing alienated people and how it’s damaged citizens in a way that made them feel as though they were disconnected from things happening around them as they were happening.

Kafka expresses this idea behind modernism and conveys it through the eyes of someone who is being taken down by society. He evokes the feeling of losing one in itself, which in terms is represented through him turning into a bug. Writing from such a close perspective is something that pertains to the idea of modernism and how it effects an individual’s thoughts and emotions. The reactions that come from the individual are what help us grasp the fact that modernism in sorts represents an instability in itself because of the idea behind how we are supposed to represent ourselves in certain societies. “[…] constantly seeing new faces, no relationships that last or get more intimate.” (Kafka, Ch. 1.4) Ironically, Gregor's main complaints throughout the story about being a traveling “salesman” is that he could never establish a serious and lasting relationship with anyone because he was always constantly moving from place to place. He was stuck at home for the most part of the story and he's still unable to make a connection with anyone. His family is there for most of it and he still can’t grasp onto the idea of making a connection with them, not even with his sister.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” came out in the same year that “The Metamorphosis” did. It’s a fairly close examination of the tortured mental stability of the typical “modern” man—overeducated, articulate, unbalanced, and emotionally strained.

“To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —

(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)”

T.S. Eliot (Stanza 6)

The poem revolves around the idea of a sought-out lover that T.S. Eliot wants to communicate with but seems to lack the courage in order to do so. In his mind, he knows too much about life that he dares not approach this “lover” because of his fear of rejection like presented in the quote above. In the presentation that I made about this poem, I talk a lot about his feeling and how they come out in snippets in his poem. Eliot lacks the courage to be himself in fear that others will talk about him and his insecurities that only seem to be revolving in his head rather than in the minds of others like he believes. Modernism revolved around self-reflection, expressions and how one felt in a society where things could be judged, which veered away from the traditional aspects of writing. Eliot almost seems to chide himself for presuming that he can have an emotional interaction with this woman.

His poem consists of many juxta-positioned ideas and fragmentations of his inner thoughts. His fragmentation was demonstrating the modern world and its existence. The way that he switches thoughts so quickly represents the idea that humanity was damaged, while incorporating the new traditions of modernism. His use of bits and pieces of formal “structure” in terms, suggests that his use of fragmentation, although anxiety-provoking, is productive in whatever sense he wants it to be. If he had chosen to write free verse, the poem would have seemed much more negative. Because of the way that he chose to write it, we really have to examine his text to even figure out the negative aspects that pop out. His discussions of his own written techniques suggest that he could make something ideally beautiful out of the refuse of the “modern life.” This specific notion creates an unsettled thought on romantic ideals about art; at best, it even suggests that certain fragments can be reintegrated, and that writing the way that Eliot does could actually become a therapeutic way for many. Modernism played a lot on the idea that written pieces didn’t always have to reflect on past things of “history”, they could be written from the fundamentals of experiences happening in the present (Eliot’s Poetry) This could in term explain the reason why so many individuals like Kafka and T.S. Eliot were isolated from things like relationships. Even though Kafka nor T.S. Eliot bluntly came forth that they were reflecting their own personas on the character, the way that they wrote it showed otherwise.

Both T.S. Eliot and Kafka represented themselves in the stories they wrote as being insecure and completely isolated from the new world. The characters that are portrayed show the repeating theme that the modern world reflected on experiences happening to the writers rather than traditional aspects of just writing from known history. T.S. Eliot’s poem shows the poetic collage of a reinterpretation of canonical text and his own historical context of how he sees society and humanity. Kafka portrays his thoughts on his own isolation in his family through the use of symbolism of a bug. Both writers show an essence of past written pieces and utilize it in the new modernistic way that was beginning to show during the era they wrote these in. Modernism offered the complexity of expressing certain social aspects that some people did not that courage to talk about. Kafka and T.S. Eliot interrelated their character with their own experiences and knowledge of the world and created some of the most read and influential written pieces that the literature knows to this day.



Works Cited

1.Posey, Lauren. “Modernism in the Metamorphosis .”,,

2.'Modernism in The Metamorphosis.' 11 2018. All Answers Ltd. 03 2019 .

3.Kafka, Franz, and Stanley Corngold. The Metamorphosis. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1981. Print.

4.“Eliot's Poetry.” SparkNotes, SparkNotes,

5.Eliot, T. S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,

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