E.E. Cummings’s and Gertrude Stein’s Modernist Use of Language

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

Modernist Approach to Language

The early twentieth century was characterized by the modernist movement, which included a new way of expressing art as well as literary innovations. During the modernist movement many writers incorporated cubism into their poetry and other publications. Cubism is a way to construct a work of art abstractly in order to lend the viewer many perspectives leaving the work open to interpretation. Writers used the formatting of their work, spacing, punctuation, and repetition, to alter the way the reader understands a piece. Both E.E. Cummings and Gertrude Stein used new and innovative writing styles in their poetry in order to transform the way the reader perceives the meaning of language and further interprets the poem.

Cummings and Stein both produced pauses in their work in order to emphasize words and phrases, utilizing the way a piece is read to further the audience’s understanding of the poem. In Cummings’ poem, Buffalo Bill’s, he constructed his stanzas with lengthy spaces that create pauses to slow the reader, accentuating the severity of each phrase. The seventh line of the poem simply reads “Jesus,” and is indented at the end of the line to create a long silence and emphasize the exclamation (Cummings). Stein, however, composed the passages within her publication, Tender Buttons, with commas separating thoughts and descriptions. For example, Stein described Mildred’s umbrella as “A cause and no curve, a cause and loud enough, a cause and extra loud crash, and an extra wagon, a sign of extra, a sac a small sac an established color and cunning, a slender grey and no ribbon, this means a loss a great loss a restitution” (Stein 6). The entire description completes almost four lines with each idea separated by a comma instead of a few sentences. Stein used this convention to highlight each phrase describing the umbrella; each phrase is equal, giving the description a sense of abstraction, affording the reader different perceptions.

Both Cummings and Stein also used the formatting of words to occasionally speed up their poems. The fifth line of Buffalo Bill’s appears to be the longest however contains few spaces between words. Cummings described how Buffalo Bill rides a stallion and would “…break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat” (Cummings). Cummings strung up to five words together and quickened the pace to accentuate the importance of phrases. In addition to lengthy sentences separated by commas, Stein integrated short concise sentences that quickened passages and stressed the importance of various descriptions. The two writers incorporated an experimental way of formatting the language in their poems to give their works different meanings, thus lending the reader various perspectives.

In addition to formatting their work to accentuate passages for the reader, both Cummings and Stein utilized repetition in order to underscore a detail they felt was important. Stein sometimes incorporated repetition more literally than Cummings. Stein described sound as “reckless reckless rats, this is this” (Stein 15). Stein repeated specific words and sounds she felt were important in her description. She also encompassed alliterations in her work to stress sounds as Cummings did in Buffalo Bill’s. He described Buffalo Bill’s horse as “a watersmooth-silver stallion” (Cummings). For both Stein and Cummings repetition transformed language to give specific phrases different meanings that are open to interpretation and variation in perspectives.

Cummings and Stein constructed their literary works with experimental ways of transforming language to lend different viewpoints to readers. Both authors incorporated cubism; they wrote their poetry abstractly to leave the work open to the audience’s interpretation. Stein and Cummings transformed language by utilizing spacing, repetition of words and sounds, and punctuation. Stein and Cummings were revolutionary the twentieth century; they used an experimental construction of language to change the way the audience perceived their works of literature.


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