Characteristics of Postmodern American Literature

Irony, Playfulness, Black Humor
The use irony, playfulness, and black humor became the hallmarks of the writing style of some postmodernist authors. Serious subjects, i.e. the Cold War, Vietnam War, and World War II, are treated with distance and disconnect. Authors depict their history ironically and humorously.

Use of combined, or “pasted elements” of previous genres and styles of literature to create a new narrative voice or to comment on the writings of contemporaries.

Realist aspects: transparent language, details, reality not fantasy, characters
Regionalism: “life as it was,” social relations, dialects, fondness of an area

Naturalism: survival of the fittest, detachment

Romantic aspects: love of nature, importance of individuality, beauty and importance of imagination, rejection of industrialization, elevated language

Modernist aspects: experimentation, new subject matter, detachment, disconnect, impersonality, chaos, reshaping old myths to fit newer topics

An acknowledgement of previous literary works evident in many postmodernist texts. One such example is evident in the commentary on the situation of the later half of the 20th century: living, working, and creating on the backs of those before.

A writing about a writing, an attempt to make the reader aware of its fictionality, and occasionally, the presence of the author.

Commonly use flagrant shifts in the narrative, impossible time jumps, or maintaining an emotional distance as a narrator.

Historical Metafiction
A characteristic in which authors fictionalize actual historical events and characters.

Temporal Distortion
Use of non-linear time in which an author may jump forward or backwards in time or there may be historical or cultural references that do not fit.

Authors write under the assumption that modern society cannot be explained or understood. From this point of view, any apparent connections or controlling influences on the chaos of society would be very frightening, and this lends a sense of paranoia.

Disorganized, sprawling, overly long and drawn out, and emotionally disconnected, maximalism exists in the tradition of long works. Authors defend their work as being as long as it needs to be depending on the subject matter covered.

Subject material is based on actual events, but authors blur the line between fact and fiction to a degree where it is impossible to know the difference between the two.

Magical Realism
The introduction of fantastic or impossible elements into a narrative that is otherwise normal.

Dreams taking place in real life, the return of previously deceased characters, extremely complicated plots, wild shifts in time, and myths and fairy tales as parts of the narrative.

Participation (Involvement)
Unlike modernist texts in which authors distanced themselves from their readers, postmodernists attempt to involve the reader as much as possible over the course of the novel.