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3. Utopian Promise   

11. Modernist Portraits

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Sherwood Anderson
- Hart Crane
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Susan Glaspell
- Ernest Hemingway
- Nella Larsen
- Marianne Moore
- John Dos Passos
- Gertrude Stein
- Wallace Stevens
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Suggested Author Pairings

Nella Larsen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and Susan Glaspell
All these authors comment on the status of American society, criticizing the ways individuals are restricted by their race, gender, class, or personal desires. Set in very different locations, these authors' works allow students to reflect on some of the different ways society may limit the individual. You might use Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby to consider more fully the limitations of the American dream suggested by "Winter Dreams" and consider how gender complicates the limits on individual desires in Trifles and Winesburg, Ohio. Quicksand permits a discussion of the effects of both gender and race on the individual's pursuit of self-fulfillment. These texts may also be linked with texts from other units: you could pair some of Larsen's criticisms of race in America with those leveled by Harlem Renaissance poets such as Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. Glaspell's play connects well to several feminist authors in the nineteenth century; Fanny Fern's short essays and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" might usefully extend your discussion of restrictions placed upon women. You might also select works that query how men are likewise limited by gender: Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, John Cheever's "The Swimmer," and Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" would allow students to discuss how gender stereotypes may inhibit men as well as women. Anderson's stories would likewise complement this discussion, as Winesburg, Ohio examines the frustration of characters of both sexes.

Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway
These authors' works highlight some of the stylistic innovations of modernism. Stein's idiosyncratic use of language, Dos Passos's inclusion of "newsreel" and "camera eye" materials, and Hemingway's non-linear narrative all demonstrate some of the experiments being made by writers after World War I. These innovators in prose could also be taught with the most innovative of the modernist poets, Eliot, Pound, and perhaps Williams. Class discussion might focus on the different types of experimentation found in this prose and poetry, from choice of word to subject matter to form. These authors' works could also be paired fruitfully with some archive images of modern art. This juxtaposition would allow students to consider the breaks with tradition, the fragmentations of perspectives, and the celebrations of streamlined forms that were concurrently taking place in modern art.

Hart Crane and John Dos Passos
These writers employ popular culture in their work, and you might create a multimedia unit in which you pair a screening of a Charlie Chaplin film such as The Kid (1921) with a reading of "Chaplinesque." Dos Passos's work incorporates the newsreel, and again you might bring footage to class for students to watch. Ask students to think about the intersections of popular culture and art, and about how the newsreel material of The Big Money functions with respect to the rest of the novel. Several William Carlos Williams poems also reference popular culture, especially advertising, and you might also discuss some of the collage art of the Cubists that incorporates remnants of newspapers and packaging.

Wallace Stevens, Ernest Hemingway, and Nella Larsen
These authors all examine crises of faith and the difficulty of establishing meaning in the modern world. You might look at how the quest for meaning is treated differently in Stevens's poetry, Hemingway's short story, and Larsen's novel. "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" layers questions about meaning over concerns about authorship and artistic creativity, and Quicksand layers questions about personal identity and faith with those of race in America. This questioning of faith might also be traced through works in other units, especially in the modern poets Robert Frost and Langston Hughes.

Sherwood Anderson, Marianne Moore, and Gertrude Stein
These writers employ something of a scientific approach to the world, observing people and objects carefully in their poetry and prose. Discussion might include a focus on individual psychology in the work of Stein and Anderson and the investigation of human nature in the works of Moore. Stein's portraits and descriptions focus less on the person or thing being described than on the variety of words one might use to describe them; the emphasis is on the language of communication rather than the information to be communicated. In contrast to Stein's look at the language of individual consciousness, Moore's poems seek universal truths and examine the vastly different effects of social forces on individuals.

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