American Literature of the 1st Half of the 20th Century

In American Literature, characters in poetry and fiction often experience loneliness. This happens even though there are other people around. Some of the notable characters who undergo this difficulty include those in poems by Edwin A. Robinson, E. E. Cummings and Langston Hughes.

First, the idea of feelings of loneliness is seen in the characters of the poetry of the early twentieth century. For instance, in Edwin A. Robinson’s “miniver cheevy”, Miniver is an alcoholic small-town man who sees himself as being at the wrong point in time. His loneliness emanates from his sense of being out of place and his contempt for the life he lives, which he refers to as his fate. Miniver daydreams on how different his life would have been had he been born in a previous era, one that was more meaningful and romantic. Langston Hughe’s poem “A Negro Speaks of Rivers”, gives the story of a young black man in a time when slavery was common. The black man, who is a slave himself, views the muddy river as his race; the dirt in the river symbolizes his hardships whose life as a slave is deemed worthless and inferior. However, when the sun’s rays turn the dirt into gold, the young slave feels empowered that his transformation from a slave to a free man is in the offing. Furthermore, E.E. Cumming’s poem, “My Sweet Old Etcetera”, tells the experiences of a soldier at war; the soldier is suffering both physically and psychologically because he does not know how his family is affected by the war. He experiences loneliness as he cannot be with his family (George and Barbara, 2008).

In addition, the fiction of the early twentieth century also uses characters who experience loneliness in their lives. In Sherwood Anderson’s story, “Adventure”, Alice, a shy woman who does not feel beautiful in her own skin is abandoned by her lover, Ned, who lives for the city. The two lovers feel alone as they miss each other with Alice’s loneliness resulting in her isolating herself from the world, and on one evening becomes desperate and runs through the streets stark naked. Sartoris, in William Faulkner’s story, “Barn Burning” feels disillusioned by his father’s beatings and demand that he behaves maturely despite his early age (George and Barbara, 2008). He feels isolated from his family by his attitude towards righteousness when he and his brothers are forced into a life of crime; he stands up to his father against burning de Spain barn. Moreover, in “Babylon Revisited” by Scott Fitzgerald, Charlie is a lonely man despite being around friends. He is devastated by the death of his wife and results in drinking because he feels responsible for her death. He resolves to take control of his drinking problem, which forces him to distance himself from the friends he once drank with.
In conclusion, poets and writers use characters that experience loneliness in their individual works to communicate the sense of isolation people feel even though there are people around. This feeling emanates from their insecurities, either from past experiences or their outlook towards their lives.

George and Barbara Perkins (2008), The American Tradition in Literature (12th ed.). Columbus:
McGraw-Hill Publishers.

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