The place of short stories in modernist fiction
Ng, Shin Jung
Date of Issue2016-05-06
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
It is especially noteworthy that many of the short stories and short stories collections written during the early to mid-twentieth century take place in a single town or city designated by the author. The place setting may be fictitious, like that of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg and William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha or in the case of Joyce’s Dubliners, an actual city. By virtue of the fact that they take place within the confines of a single location, these short stories already deceive readers from the beginning by providing them with a false expectation of unity and coherence. In actuality, the only unifying aspect of these short stories, besides their static background is the fact that their characters are all in one way or another, dealing with their own demons. They neither notice nor acknowledge the pain and suffering of their fellow townsmen. The utter alienation that the each of the characters experiences prevents them from reaching out to one another, thus, creating a cavernous sense of disconnect and loss within the community. According to author and critic, Michael Levenson, “crisis is inevitably the central term in discussion” during the Modernism period (Cambridge Companion 4). One of the ways in which modernist works explore this “crisis” brought about by the deteriorating “stabilities of society, religion and culture” (Stallworthy and Ramazani 1828), is by conveying the deep-seated scepticism of man towards the belief that “the world, things, and selves were knowable” (1838), and that they have a fixed meaning, which can be represented with absolute certainty. As such, this essay will explore the inherent cynicism in short stories by examining and drawing attention to the paradoxical nature of the short story as a traditionally realist form, the universal loneliness of man and the irreconcilable discrepancy between language and reality. These are fundamental features that make short stories invaluable and relevant to the Modernism period where there is a distinct propensity to capture the inherent meaninglessness of life and the profound sense of disengagement one experiences in spite of living in such a physically interconnected world.
Final Year Project (FYP)
Nanyang Technological University