Introduction: The Delightful Emptiness of Modernism
Modernist era was not a simple time to create in and talk about; set in the time when the world started changing rapidly and, therefore, facing a number of political crises, the Civil War being one of the most horrible of them, it made people feel lost and desperate.
As a result, the literature of the period was filled with anguish and despair as well. Although such works as Crane’s “Open Boat,” Gilman’s “The Yellow Paper” and London’s “To Build a Fire” were written independently and concerned absolutely different topics, they still revolved around the same issue, namely, the idea that life was a trail of suffering ending in death, and that madness was the only retreat.
Which Way the Boat Flows: Surviving on a Shipwreck
Known for his attempts to help people reconcile with the tough American nature, Jack London was one of the first people to portray the U.S. nation as the victims of cataclysm, which the Civil war, actually was; inflicted not by nature, but by people, it, however, left much more scars than one might expect it to. London nails down the major problems of the post-war U.S. society: “This tower […] represented […] the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual—nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men” (Crane).
In fact, the very title of the novel speaks for itself, the shipwreck being a metaphor for the U. S. at the beginning of the XX century. Torn limb to limb by the Civil War, the United States resembled a wreck of a state and had, in fact, to start from the very beginning to build a new society.
The Yellow Wallpaper and What Lurks Behind It: A Gradual Descent into Madness
A different perspective on the XX century world in general and the USA in particular, Charlotte Gilman’s “Yellow Wallpaper” is more than a journey into the protagonist’s psychotic mind. In “Yellow Wallpaper,” Gilman questions the sanity of the entire world: “There are things in that paper which nobody knows but me, or ever will. Behind that outside pattern the dim shapes get clearer every day” (Gilman), thus, adding to its Modernist portrayal.
Into the Primitive: Jack London Tries to Light the Fire
Much like the two previous writers, London offers the readers to consider a conflict; however, the conflict in London’s work is of different origin than the ones in Gilman and Crane’s stories. While the latter dwell on the relationships between people, the mistakes that people make and the horrible misunderstandings that these mistakes lead to, London considers the relationship between people and nature.
The traces of the tension that gripped the entire world, however, can also be traced in the story. Instead of portraying a touching reconcile with nature, as London used to do, the author depicts a battle for life between a freezing man and the storm on the Yukon Trail: “It was a clear day, and yet there seemed an intangible pall over the face of things, a subtle gloom that made the day dark, and that was due to the absence of the sun” (London).
Conclusion: Looking for the New Means of expressing the Old Truth
It seems that there was a common thread in the Modernist epoch with the idea of disaster gradually approaching the humankind. Even though the three stories mentioned above are related to completely different themes, they are all shot through with the anticipation of something tragic. A typical characteristic of the Modernist literature, which was considered the manifestation of the era of uncertainty, with the terrors of WWI, the graphic portrayal of creeping insanity is what the three above-mentioned works can be characterized with.
Crane, Stephen. Open Boat. n. d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=CraOpen.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=all>.
Gilman, Charlotte P. The Yellow Wallpaper. n. d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/lavender/wallpaper.html>.
London, Jack. To Build a Fire. n. d. Web. 12 Apr. 2013. <http://www.jacklondons.net/buildafire.html>.