-Modern Period, 1900–1950. Wars, economic prosperity, along with the Depression, commercialism, and increased population, marked the first half of the Twentieth Century in the United States. The independent, individualistic spirit that was distinctively
American seemed threatened. Writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T. S. Eliot explored themes of alienation and change and confronted people’s fears and disillusionments. During this time, African-American literature flourished, inspired
by writers such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston of the Harlem Renaissance. Characteristics of modern literature include extensive use of symbolism, irony, and understatement. Writers experimented with new techniques, such as stream of consciousness, in which the random, seemingly unconnected thoughts of a character are revealed. Readers must often use a good deal of inference to understand character and theme, as meaning is suggested more than directly stated.
-Postmodern Period, 1950–present.This period includes unprecedented prosperity, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement, the end of the Cold War, and the transformation of the world order. Writers of this period have embraced this
dismantling of the old reality. Postmodernists blur reality and create nontraditional works without traditional structure or narrative. Its writings are often critical and ironic, concentrating on surface realities and the absurdity of daily life. Distinctions between high and low culture are also distorted. This period has also addressed social issues related to gender and race. Beat poets like Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg are Postmodernists. Other writers of this period include Norman Mailer, J. D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, and Joyce Carol Oates.