Post-Modernism

1940-present

How history impacts literature

After two World Wars and the Depression, the post-modern era came into play. The lasting effects of these events prompted writers to respond to war in a modernist style, using memoirs and novels. The views of the American Dream were also changed. Writers began to create stories about the tragic reality of the great American dream. In Arthur Millers play, Death of a Salesman, the main character, Willy Loman has lived his life in pursuit of the American Dream. Traditionally, the American Dream meant opportunity and freedom for all, and Willy believed that. However, hard work could not earn him everything he wanted or thought he deserved.

How the text connects to the big question

"Charley: Nobody dast blame this man. You don’t understand: Willy was a salesman. And for a salesman, there’s no rock bottom to the life. He don’t put a bolt to a nut, he don’t tell you the law or give you medicine. He’s a man way out their in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple spots on your hat and your finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream boy, it comes with the territory." (Act 2)

Charley's characterization of a salesman really applies to all dreamers, to all dreams of finding opportunity and success in America. This speech from Charley seems to help elevate Willy to a truly tragic figure, who represents the many failed dreams that have happened in America.

Relevent to American High School students?

The post-modern era showed us how war and economic issues can have a huge impact in literature and state-of-minds. The American Dream once meant freedom, rights, liberty, opportunity, and equality. However, after the Depression, the American Dream evolved into owning a house in a stable neighborhood. Today, war is still happening all around us, even if it doesn't directly affect us, it is still making an impact. Our generation is constantly evolving and being formed by our surroundings. And when the time comes where we must evaluate how we became our generation, how we live and act, reevaluating on past events and the effects of them could help open our eyes to how our history has shaped us also.
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