A Guide to Postmodernism in Literature

At its core, postmodernism in literature is a reaction to the modernist movement that dominated the early 20th century.

While modernism aimed to make sense of a rapidly changing world through abstraction, symbolism, and introspection, Postmodernism in literature is a form of literature which is marked, both stylistically and ideologically, by a reliance on literary conventions as:

FragmentationUnreliable Narrators
GamesUnrealistic Impossible Plots
ParanoiaDownright Impossible Plots
Dark HumorAuthorial self-reference. 

Postmodern authors tend to reject outright meanings in their novels, stories and poems, and, instead, highlight and celebrate the possibility of multiple meanings, or a complete lack of meaning, within a single literary work.

Characteristics of Postmodern Literature

These are some of the most important characteristics of postmodern literature

  • Pastiche: The taking of various ideas from previous writings and literary styles and pasting them together to make new styles.
  • Intertextuality: The acknowledgment of previous literary works within another literary work.
  • Metafiction: The act of writing about writing or making readers aware of the fictional nature of the very fiction they’re reading.
  • Temporal Distortion: The use of non-linear timelines and narrative techniques in a story.
  • Minimalism: The use of characters and events which are decidedly common and non-exceptional characters.
  • Maximalism: Disorganized, lengthy, highly detailed writing.
  • Magical Realism: The introduction of impossible or unrealistic events into a narrative that is otherwise realistic.
  • Faction: The mixing of actual historical events with fictional events without clearly defining what is factual and what is fictional.
  • Reader Involvement: Often through direct address to the reader and the open acknowledgment of the fictional nature of the events being described
  • Fragmentation: Linear storytelling takes a backseat in postmodern literature. Instead, narratives are fragmented, non-linear, and nonlinear, mimicking the chaos of the postmodern world.
  • Unreliable narrators are a prominent and intriguing element in postmodern literature. They play a significant role in challenging traditional storytelling and exploring the subjectivity of truth and reality. An unreliable narrator is a character who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, presents a distorted or inaccurate account of the story they are telling.

Postmodern Authors

These are some of the most important postmodern authors

Bret Easton Ellis (born March 7, 1964) is an American author, screenwriter, and short story writer. His works have been translated into 27 languages.

He was at first regarded as one of the so-called literary Brat Pack, which also included Tama Janowitz and Jay McInerney.

He is a self-proclaimed satirist, whose trademark technique, as a writer, is the expression of extreme acts and opinions in an affectless style. 

Ellis employs a technique of linking novels with common, recurring characters. He wrote American Psycho

Samuel Barclay Beckett was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, who lived in Paris for most of his adult life and wrote in both English and French.

He is widely regarded as among the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is the author of Waiting for Godot

Other Literary periods and Movements

If you want to learn more about literary periods and movements, consider visiting some of these posts:

  1. A Guide to Renaissance Literature
  2. A Guide to Postmodernism in Literature
  3. A Guide to Modernism in Literature
  4. A Guide to the Beat Generation in Literature
  5. The Beginner’s Guide to Realism in Literature
  6. A Guide to Naturalism in Literature
  7. A Guide to the Bloomsbury Group in Literature
  8. A Guide to Existentialism in Literature
  9. A Guide to Transcendentalism in Literature
  10. A Guide to the Victorian Period Literature
  11. A Guide to Romanticism in Literature
  12. A Guide to The Enlightenment Literature
  13. A guide to Medieval Literature
Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of EnglishPost.org, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English