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Modernism Through Giovannis Room English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1108 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Modernism was a movement in arts to turn away from realism, an idea which displays things unpleasant ones in particular in the way it is. Instead of being realistic, modernism focuses on pursuing a more meaningful life through representing style, technique and spatial form in a humanistic way. Writers gave up traditional methods in viewing and interacting with the world. It took place between 1900 and 1950, and reached its climax in the 1920s. There are famous authors from the modernism age, like Oscar Wilde who has written “The Importance of Being Earnest”, T. S. Eliot with his famous work “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and James Joyce writing “Ulysses”. In this essay, elements of modernism will be discussed by examining an extract from “Giovanni’s Room” written by James Baldwin.

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Moreover, the story focused on the narrator himself on how he adapts to societal norms. Modernist literature focuses on individuals, as it is believed that this is the most intriguing topic to discuss. The writers’ focus is always on ‘how individuals adapted to the changing world’ (The Main Characteristics of Modernist). In the extract David (the protagonist) recalled his teenage experience in which he met the boy Joey and had affection with him (11). However, he thinks ‘the idea that such a person could have been my best friend was proof of some horrifying taint in him. So he forgot him’ (11). The ‘taint’ refers to the experience of being in a relationship with different boys and men, which is regarded as immoral, juxtaposing the morally accepted relationship with his fiancée, Hella. His choice of valuing what the people think more instead of his true feelings implies that he is willing to adapt himself to the norms, as a response to societies.

Apart from responding to society in light of the special personality, memory plays an immensely important role in modernist novels. Modernist works are often centered on a point or points of consciousness (Drabble 682). In this extract, memory serves as the center point, and different scenes emerge when David recalls the memory in the form of monologue. David introduces the start of the extract by recalling his encounter with Joey, on top of telling a lie to Giovanni that he has not ‘never slept with a boy before’ (11). With David describing his memory which is so clear that he ‘see him [Joey] quite clearly’ even when years passed serves as a foreshadowing for the subsequent stories in the remaining part of the novel and towards the end of the novel (which is not shown here). As the If these parts are removed from the novel, it is predictable that the story about David’s homosexual experience will be incomplete due to the lack of mentioning David’s first love. Therefore,

Modernism also deals with different formerly unexplored themes, like homosexual love, in contrary to the ordinary heterosexual love mentioned in romanticism works. They focus on platonic love, the ‘love of purely sensual character’ (Drabble 796). As the extract from “Giovanni’s Room” is about the protagonist’s experience living with Joey, his male friend and the discovery of his affection towards him (13), homosexuality can be regarded as one of the themes for the extract. However, back in the 20th century homosexuality was not very popular and not widely accepted. Oscar Wilde, as a modernist writer and a homosexual at the same time, challenged the moral expectations of his readers by including homosexual elements in his works, resulting in imprisonment in 1895 (Drabble 1098). With reference to Oscar Wilde’s prison experience, it is evident that the inclusion of homosexual elements into literary works challenge the general public’s moral expectations.

Supplementing the challenge of moral expectations, homosexuality as the theme also may give the novel and the author feelings of alienation. Modernist writers always write in a style that alienates from the mainstream literary works. In this extract, homosexuality is shown in an alienated way. David felt he started his affection towards Joey in the shower, as he ‘mysteriously, and yet aimlessly, included’ Joey (12). This further progressed by David realizing ‘his heart beating in an awful way and that Joey is trembling against him’ (12). With the use of special and negative adjectives like ‘mysteriously’ and ‘awful’, it is obvious that Baldwin has caused readers to think the theme ‘homosexuality’ as an alienated one by exhibiting the attempt of alienating this kind of love, compared to the trivial love when a man falls in love with a woman.

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In addition, the extract involves the use of epiphany, which was very popular in the modernist age. James Joyce, a modernist writer, always uses this to ‘describe the sudden the moment in which […] the soul of the commonest object seems to us radiant’ (Drabble 518). The epiphany attempted to make is the cruelty of sub consciousness. When one seems to have forgotten something, he still has the memory inside his brain so clearly that he can still recall what happened back then. In light of the extract, David can still recall his experience with Joey, meaning the effects of sub consciousness do take place. Such epiphany is essential, because this characterizes David as a person who has had a lot of relationships with different people, and how do they influence and change David. Most importantly, the epiphany adds value to the encounter and makes the story more vivid to the readers.

As an idea and a writing style, modernism has laid foundations for today’s literature development. It explores the formerly unexplored area, like the unconscious and the homosexuality taboo as discussed from the extract. These works may bring challenge to the readers, as they have never seen works with such themes. Moreover, as modernism goes, the traditional written conventions have been ignored. Some people may find this uncomforting, as it is not the way they read English works from the Canon of English Literature. Yet the introduction of new writing styles brings colors to modern literary works, making them different from the previous works. In conclusion, modernism brings new changes to our existing literature world. “Giovanni’s Room”, as a fiction, has included most of the elements of modernist work, and can thus be regarded as a modernist work.


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