The costs of modernity through Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Mansfield’s Garden Party
E. Agathokleous 2020
The time characterized as modernity was the time that major technological advancements were made and along with them there were also major changes in society and culture (Hayot, 2). Modernity was the period that new science was developed, politics and capitalism appeared and industrialization was an intense phenomenon (Hayot, 2). Modernity meant new better ways of production, economical advancements and a move forward in societies that begun to promote the idea that all men were created equal (Hayot 2). In the early twentieth century, modernization meant a change from traditional ways to new innovative technologies that made life easier, cities that offered better living conditions, more mass commodities and also opportunities for access to materials and social mobility (Moglen xiii). This era affected human life greatly and seemed to be highly superior to the past and thus modernity acquired devoted and passionate followers (Hayot, 2). A tension between the old and new was created and some modernists sought to eradicate all signs of the past (Hayot 2). Modernist writers invented strange new forms to represent a strange new world and explored new ways of writing that would parallel the feelings of fragmentation in society, inequality and inability to move forward expressing this way their resistance to the costs of modernization. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Mansfield’s Garden Party are both modernist texts that deal with modernity and its costs for specific groups of people.
Some of the movements devoted to modernity led to the appearance of Fascism and promoted the notion of nationalism in close relation to modernism (Griffin 9). Democracy was opposed as a chaotic system of individual voices (Kroes, 220). This fascination concerning everything new preached the complete eradication of the past in any way necessary. As Marinetti states in his Futurist Manifesto everything old should be forgotten and Italy should only move forward freed from “its gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tourist guides and antiquaries” (Marinetti 3). These new movements that were closely related to modernism through “the beauty of speed of racing automobiles” and promoted modernity in a violent way with “movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist” (Marinetti 2). Soon appearing in other parts of the world various versions of Fascism rose through radical modernism, applied both socially and politically (Griffin, 20).
In America, modernity created two opposing sides as to the way modernity was received. After the abolition of slavery to the North due to notions of modernity that demanded equality for all men, the Civil War and the illegalization of slavery in the south brought on a primarily economical but also a social impact on the south which was by then economically dependent solely on slavery as a resource of free labor (Genovese 65). The South saw modernism as a threat to traditional patriarchal values and highly resisted the change refusing to partake in the universal changing ideologies (Genovese 66). As adversaries to industrialization they rejected modernity claiming that it was the reason that whole families became poor, people faced brutal labor in factories and working people became wretched (Genovese 67). Southern people insisted that they could modernize the Agrarian South however never really embraced new technologies and processes (Mathews 71). With the abolition of slavery however the South faced a reality where no other alternative existed (Genovese 67).
While there were intentions to offer help so that the South would recover, the South remained in a “state of great loss” (Mathews 70). Sentiments in the South came from a complete defeat that caused anger and despair from the destruction of their economy, and their desolate state (Genovese 77). The South was insistent on a society of slavery and while in other markets this diminished over time in the South it became even more crucial to the market (Davidson 80). Without the option to transgress to a free labor market the South turned rather primitive and while in the North capital and productivity both grew the South did not develop since its development could only come from land expansion however the Southern limits did not expand (Davidson 78). Because of this the South seemed to be stuck in a reality where any move forward seemed almost impossible (Davidson 81).
In America not everyone had access to modernity and for those people modernity was a disparaging force that eradicated their chances for humane conditions of living (Moglen xiii). Modernity thus seemed to imply another kind of slavery, an individual one since natural inequalities emerged due to the technological excellence of few and not others (Genovese 78). Modernization brought on massive economical exploitation, material and social inequalities and feelings of exclusion as well as provincialism (Moglen xiii). From these costs of modernity, Modernism came as a response to the destructive effects of modern capitalism, the suffering that accompanied it and reflected the struggle of those that experience the alienation and injustice of modern life (Moglen xiii). American modernist writers explored how the transformation in the global economic order was connected to the sense of distress and explored this crisis of alienation by focusing on the various aspects of social progress (Moglen 6). Some also focused on the working classes and how intensifying economic exploitation entailed psychic and material costs of working people, deformation of family (Moglen 6)
Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying presents ideas mainly as images in the narrators’ heads, depicting fragmentation, social immobility and provincialism as products of modernity, especially in the American South. Faulkner’s novel is a modernist novel which greatly diverts from classical forms of writing like linear timelines, an authoritative narrator and clearly set plots and ideas (Mathews 72). Its form reinforces the fragmented reality and its repercussions and the way the various views are presented with the use of the stream of consciousness establish its ideology (Matthews 72). Through the various narrators a cyclical rather than linear plot is formed which mostly deals with psychological aspects of their lives which are not voiced but are rather experienced through their journey (Mathews 72). His characters placed in the rural south show that this portion of population had no access to modernity and the merits of progress (Hubbs 463). The Bundrens struggle to overcome their state of immobility but seem unable to do so while they face provincialism at the same time, by those who managed to progress. Through As I Lay Dying the reader sees how modernity did not mean progress for everyone but it negatively impacted poor whites who had no access to the merits of modernity and were also discriminated against as stuck in the past (Hubbs 461).
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- Elena Agathokleous (Author), 2021, Modernity and it's Costs in William Faulkner’s "As I Lay Dying" and Katherine Mansfield’s "Garden Party", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1007710