Alienation in Modernist Short Stories and Poems Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Feb 2nd, 2021

In modernist texts, different writers treat the theme of alienation differently in their works based on the conditions and the situations they are expressing in the works. As the paper unfolds, the treatment of the theme of alienation as per different writers will be looked into to establish whether there exists a common denominator in the treatment of the works or not. Allen Ginsberg has his format of addressing the theme in his story ‘Howl’.

Ginsberg addresses the desperation and the alienation felt by the Americans by the mechanization and the intellectual conformity that the authorities thought the American society demanded. In the second part of the poem, Ginsberg introduces the god character Moloch to who powerful people sacrificed children to satisfy their desires to remain in power. In a more personal tribute, he seeks to bring about a balance in the poem in part III (Ginsberg 34). The form of alienation displayed here introduces the sense of rebellion to end the state. Frost’s story ‘Mending Wall’ presents its style of handling the theme.

Frost’s “Mending Wall” gives an insight into the alienation that a person welcomes him/herself when he or she introduces barriers. These barriers exclude other people and make the ‘neighbor’ aloof as he or she insists on keeping the barrier.

The separation that the neighbor introduces between him and the narrator portrays the nature of self-inflicted alienation. A person puts up barriers, which to him seem intended to maintain a good relationship between them and the neighbors. The neighbor argues that ‘A good fence makes a good neighbor’ (Frost lines 10 and 34). The narrator sarcastically evaluates the reason behind his neighbor maintaining the importance of a wall between them.

Paul in Willa Cather’s story is alienated as a child since he is motherless. He sets out to seek meaning in life that is different from the treatment he gets from his father and the yellow wallpaper in his room. He has a disinterest in school stems from his alienation as a child. This alienation is characteristic of the modernist portrayal of desperation as Paul gets unusual attention at school and never gets any attention from his father at home. It is his attitude towards schools that portrays the boy’s sense of alienation (Cather 34). Robinson further presents the theme of alienation in his story ‘Mr. Flood’s Party’.

Eben in “Mr. Flood’s Party” is friendless and isolated for most of his life. Despite having lived for long and witnessed many changes, his life seems filled with a sense of alienation. He compares his life cycle with that harvested crops that are of use when they end their cycle (Robinson lines 1-24). He has lived the last autumn stage of his long life and yet he is of no use to anyone not to even himself. He leads a desperately lonely life to the extent that he even talks to himself. This alienation is characteristic of the disillusionment portrayed in most modernist texts. The ‘Love Song of Alfred Prufrock’ by Eliot portrays further the subject of alienation.

The dramatic monologue centers on the narration of an insecure intermediary who leads a mediocre life for the fear of taking risks especially when it comes to issues related to women. Prufrock alienates himself with his manhood due to his fear of taking risks (Eliot Lines 1-4). The juxtaposition of this lyricism in the narration that elaborates the alienation is characteristic of the modernist texts.

Based on the evident similarity in which the different writers address the theme, it suffices to declare it possible to come up with an effective way that adequately looks at the theme. The theme of alienation cuts across all works by modernist writers. The treatment of the theme in the literary works portrays the thematic concerns inspired by desperation, loneliness, and aimed at portraying human life as filled with these characteristics.

Considering how modernist texts treat the theme of alienation, it is clear that modernism has a particular way of treating alienation through the portrayal of alienated characters struggling with their situations. Therefore, given a chance to address the subject of alienation, my thesis statement would declare alienation as a situation dominated by struggles in the lives of the affected.

Works Cited

Cather, Willa. Paul’s Case: American Short Story Collection. New York: Kessinger Publishing, 2005.

Eliot, Tony. The Love Song of Albert Prufrock: An Anthology of Modern Poetry. London: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Frost, Robert. Mending wall: Modern Poetics and the Landscapes of Self. 1975 New York: Duke University Press, 1975.

Ginsberg, Allen. Howl: Howl and Other Poems by Ginsberg. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

Robinson, Arlington. Mr. Flood’s Party: Poems by Arlington. New York: Penguin Books, 1972.

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