Copyright

The Contemporary Period in American Literature

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Contemporary American Literature: Authors and Major Works

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:05 Development from Modernism
  • 1:40 Effects of WWII
  • 2:19 Response to Conformity
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lindsey Madison-Dunn

Lindsey has taught a variety of English courses in both secondary and post-secondary classrooms, and has a master's degree in Rhetoric.

Learn about how Contemporary literature developed and understand its fundamental characteristics. Find out how American history and cultural norms really defined and developed the Contemporary period in American literature.

Development From Modernism

Hemingway, Stein, and Eliot were leading Modernist writers.
Modernist Authors

In this lesson, we will learn about the Contemporary period in American literature, where it came from, and identify its basic characteristics. The Contemporary period in American literature begins at the end of World War II, and in order to understand this literature and how it developed, we need to look at where it came from. With writers like Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and T.S. Eliot, the Modernist period (taking place between the 1920s and 40s) explored the ways that truth is not straight forward, rational or clearly defined, but rather how it is completely influenced by human perception. Their writing brought us deeper into the workings of the human mind as a means to get at reality.

In other words, Modernists believed that the characters' thoughts mattered more than the plot, and the way things are said - in terms of the rhythm and imagery - may communicate more about the character than what they are doing. Passages may not proceed in an ordered way, but may be more choppy or fragmented. The shift from working to objectively portray events and experiences in the world to the often nonsensical exploration of human psychology is a clear marker for Modern literature. It also brings a shift in how we see the world. By the end of WWII, the modernists had heightened our awareness that truth is merely a product of human perception. If truth is so influenced by human perception, then a clear, objective standard for truth isn't quite so clear-cut, and reality is, to some extent, what we make of it.

Effects of World War II

The massive trauma of WWII influenced Contemporary writers.
WWII Rescue Photo

So, depending on what kind of reality we were making, it might seem all fine and good to allow it to be determined by humans. But, the one we were making was not super fun. Throughout the end of Modernism, people were dealing with the horror of WWII. The bombs dropped on citizens in Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki left the world traumatized, wondering if there was any point to human existence. Whereas Modernist writers really began to explore human consciousness as a primary mode of getting at truth, the Contemporary writers following the war also struggled to reconcile the irrational and violent actions taken by humans.

Response to Conformity

Not only were writers dealing with the beginnings of this sort of existential crisis of purpose and meaning, they were also confronting absolute and unquestioned patriotism, which continued in America after WWII. During the war, national pride had been galvanized in order to defeat the German and Japanese armies. After the war was over, media and popular culture identified the U.S. as the prime hero of the time. Americans were the good guys, and they could do no wrong.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Free 5-day trial

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 160 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support