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Modernism And Post Modernism Influences Of Literature English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1520 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Toni Morrison and Franz Kafka’s publications are very influential when it comes to the topic of modernism and post-modernism. While both publications touch on some of the same subjects, they differ greatly. Toni Morrison’s The Song of Solomon is considered a perfect example of post-modernism while Franz Kafka’s The Trial is considered a perfect example of modernism as well as what they represent as a whole because when it comes to things like this everyone has a different opinion and point of view regarding the negative and positive aspects of both modernism and post-modernism.

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The most important subject of post-modernism within Morrison’s publication is dealing with race and the ideas associated with race post-modernism. Racism is a very important theme within The Song of Solomon. The setting is what contributes a great deal to the issue of racism and contributes to the greater plot of the whole story. The milkman’s grandfather even left his life because of slavery and Guitar’s grandfather died because of his white employers. Everyone in these stories are trying to run away and get away from their families pasts as slaves but they are really only oppressing themselves more. For example, Macon Dead tells Milkman that if he wants to be free, he must have money, and lots of it, so that he can own people, which is a direct reversal of his own past, yet it traps Macon in a position where he is enslaved to his job. Slavery is a huge issue even today and this publication exhibits the perfect attitude that people possessed about slavery post-modernism. The attitude regarding slavery and African Americans is the attitude that slavery is ok and that the attitude of the public possessed in this story is accurate for that time frame. “Let me tell you right now the one important thing that you’ll ever need to know: Own things. And let the things you own other things too. Then you’ll own yourself and other people too.” (Hum, 54)

On the other hand, The Trial by Franz Kafka exhibits the attitudes of modernism as a whole. The modernist points of view is revolved around the fact that people must discover themselves and know themselves in a deep way in order to be fully productive. Kafka intentionally set out to write parables, not just novels, about the human condition. The Trial is a parable that includes the smaller parable Before the Law. There is clearly a relationship between the two but the exact meaning of either parable is left up to the individual reader. K. and the Priest discuss the many possible readings. Both the short parable and their discussion seem to indicate that the reader is much like the man at the gate; there is a meaning in the story for everyone just as there is one gate to the law for each person. The old man, therefore, is the symbol of this universal search inherent to mankind. The Trial is not simply a novel about the potential disaster of over-bureaucratization in society; it is an exploration of the personal, emotional and particularly subjective needs of individual human beings. The modernistic views presented within this publication are that of modern mentalities today. This quote is the exact example of the control and power that people strive for today. The modernist mentality is selfish and related solely to money and power. People today do not care so much about physical well being of people but they do in fact care about owning and controlling other people.

The similarities I notice in the styles of writing between authors are that of a selfish nature between the humans involved. In Toni Morrison’s publication, the people are selfish because instead of embracing the history of their families and integrating these lessons into their present day lives, they are ashamed and in turn trying to run and cover up their families’ pasts. In Kafka’s publication, the modernist point of view of power and control shines through due to the selfishness of the people in the stories. The differences in subject are very obvious as the stories are very different. However, some of their subjects are very much the same when it comes to humanity in general.

The protagonist in The Trial is the milkman. Milkman is our hero, our protagonist, and the man we are supposed to pay attention to, the pièce de résistance. Though he provides us many a forehead-slapping moment we are right there with Milkman all along, as he fights his way first toward gold, and then toward finding his identity, his reason for being, and his “people.” He shows us how to make mistakes, keep going, and how to thirst for self-knowledge. Song of Solomon’s protagonist literally embarks upon a journey of exploration, the initial goal being the discovery of gold. But this quest eventually morphs into an exploration of identity, family, and name. We watch our protagonist struggle to reach both goals, realizing that shortcuts and haste only set him back further from his goals. The desire for self-knowledge is imbued in each character to some extent.

In my opinion there are several things within these publications that make them unique and have perfect attributes to contribute to post-modernism and modernism in general. The Trial led to the word Kafkaesque’ defined as the helplessness of man in the face of unknown forces that persecute him without reason. In Kafka’s The Trial, Joseph K. is persecuted by the Law (symbolized by the Court) and is not given a reason for his arrest. The entire court system of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I is parodied, as well as the police, who are portrayed as a theater’ act; they were open to bribery and corruption of all sorts while conducting legal procedures that made no sense. Along with this central theme, the novel also denotes the alienation and anxiety of humanity in general in the absence of God. The novel relies on God to form a structure and meaning for people’s lives.

Morrison’s story centers around the Dead family composed of Macon (the abusive, yet savvy father), Ruth (the mother – a sad woman whose grief for her dead father defines her life), First Corinthians (a daughter both beautiful and educated who stumbles in her search for a lover), Magdalene called Lena (the second daughter), and finally Milkman (Macon’s son). There are other important characters as part of the extended family – namely Pilate, Macon’s free spirited sister who lives with her daughter Reba and Reba’ daughter Hager. There are many themes and much symbolism throughout the book, and I found myself marking passages and re-reading paragraphs to make sense of them. First and foremost, the novel is about discovery of one’s roots, and the painful search for love. Milkman starts his life fighting to avoid murder at the hands of his father, and this theme continues through the book ending with Milkman’s protracted journey from his home in Michigan to his grandparent’s home in Virginia. Along the way, Milkman’s views of life are challenged and his connection to his roots is strengthened. Another strong theme in the novel is that of racism and the struggle of blacks in American to overcome the history of slavery. Finally, the idea of taking flight and finding oneself is replayed over and over in the book. In one memorable scene, Milkman and his friend Guitar observe a white peacock. Milkman asks why the peacock struggles to fly and Guitar says:

“Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t anybody fly with all that shit? Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

The ideas within this publication are what make the story so interesting to people all over the world. The idea of humanity and how all of these instances effect humanity is in general the centerpiece and what all the story’s events center around.

So in conclusion, there are several different topics and issues addressed within these two publications. The issue of racism is a very real and talked out issue in the Song of Solomon and it actually affects humanity all the way up through modern times. Even in The Trial there are several issues of humanity that are addressed. The court system in The Trial could even be considered to be a racist entity because of the arrest that took place without reason. Song of Solomon has been banned in the United States for “language degrading to blacks,” violent imagery, sexually explicit and profane language and depictions of sexuality. It has been accused of promoting a “homosexual agenda.” There is profanity, violence and sex in the novel, but it is not gratuitous. Both of these novels are thought provoking and interesting to read as far as readers are concerned. The issues that these novels address are very controversial but both authors, whether modernist or post-modernist, both have very realistic viewpoints that still exist even today.


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