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Costin Sorin 20.01.

2019
Spanish-English, 3rd year

”Why, you reckon?” as a modernist


short story

It is well known the fact that modernism means far more than a period in which the
writers delivered literature to the public masses. Beyond the temporal representation
established between the late nineteenth-century and almost the middle of the twentieth-
century, modernism is considered a philosophical movement that implies a lot of changes
trough literary perspectives and arts.

Even if before I said that the temporal meaning of ‘Modernism’ doesn’t play the most
important role, the period in which happened apported it’s most specific flavour: the capability
of the reader to observe the evolution and changes of the human mind. We can clearly
observe a rupture of style between Realism and Modernism, but we also can see a division
inside the Modernism. The split occured because of the First World War, a new and agressive
perspective brought by a disastrous event. If before the war the novelists built their designs
around exterior details, after it, they got inside and analized the psychic aspect. Their purpose
was to create a character more than a plot. It wasn’t entirely revolutionary, it was just a
question of parallax: the same thing seen diferently depending on the point you are watching
from. Peter Childs stated that “modernist writers therefore struggled, in Ezra Pound’s brief
phrase, to ‘make it new’, to modify, if not overturn existing modes of representation, partly by
pushing them towards the abstract or the introspective, and to express the new sensibilities of
their time: in a compressed, condensed, complex literature of the city, of industry and
technology, war, machinery and speed, mass markets and communication, of internationalism,
the New Woman, the aesthete, the nihilist and the flâneur.”(pg. 1)

We shall pass to the short story that we have to analize from a modernist point of view:
”Why, you reckon?” by Langston Hughes. The plot gravitates around the narrator that is a
black man in Harlem during the Great Depression, and he is starving. Another black man
approaches him, telling that he is hungry too, and suggests they mug one of the rich white
men who frequent the night clubs. They do so, pulling a young, very rich white boy, Edward,
into a basement. The other man takes all of his things, and berates him out for his entitled
existence, while the narrator stands by and does nothing. The thief leaves, giving nothing to
our narrator and leaving him with the victim. Edward bizarrely thanks the main character for
the experience, saying that it was the first exciting thing to ever happen to him. The narrator
says he would be happy with what he had if he was rich, and Edward refuses that statement.
They go their separate ways on good terms, and the narrator is left feeling just as hungry, and
very confused on how a rich white man could ever be dissatisfied with his easy life.
It’s interesting when you realize how you get caught by a story that has nothing to do with
your reality, but by barely knowing some of the afro-american lifestyle, you can empathize
with the facts. Here is where the subjective perspective won ground: by being in the first
Costin Sorin 20.01.2019
Spanish-English, 3rd year
person, the reader feels the character as being himself. The more complex the character, the
better the trip of the lecturer. ”Modernism is associated with attempts to render human
subjectivity in ways more real than realism: to represent consciousness, perception, emotion,
meaning and the individual’s relation to society through interior monologue, stream of
consciousness, tunnelling, defamiliarisation, rhythm, irresolution and other terms that will be
encountered later in the book.’’ (Peter Childs, pg. 1)

Regarding the individual’s relation to society trough monologue aspect, previously


mentioned in Child’s quote, we can also notice a social hierarchy between the two ’negros’
and Edward Peedee McGill III. Neither the protagonist, nor his companion has a name, while
the upper class provenient has a fancy dynastic name. This accentuates the futility of their lives
because of their ethnicity that not long ago was under slavery. Legally it was abolited, but the
power was still in the white people’s hands. Another modernist feature is the presentation of
the city, especially the most needy neighborhood from the big Manhattan to which Langston
Hughes adds the most contrastant elements: coal and diamonds, spent shoes and furs. Also, it
is interesting to observe the fight between rational and instinct. Going on the rational path,
our narrator would not have commited that unlawfulness, but when his partner in crime
reminded him that he was ”hongry” he couldn’t resist the temptation of making ”a little jack”.
Intriguing is the final discution between our fooled men that concludes with the idea that the
grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. This whole story might represent
something real from Hughes’ life given the fact that he fits a similar profile as the protagonist.
”All human relations have shifted—those between masters and servants, husbands and wives,
parents and children. And when human relations change there is at the same time a change in
religion, conduct, politics, and literature.” (Virginia Woolf, pg. 3)

In conclusion, the author built a profile close to the environment he lived in and by ”keepin’
it real” he resisted over time as an artist and a fighter for the human rights. ”The foundation of
good fiction is character-creating and nothing else...Style counts; plot counts; originality of
outlook counts. But none of these counts anything like so much as the convincingness of the
characters. If the characters are real the novel will have a chance; if they are not, oblivion will
be its portion...”(Virginia Woolf, pg.1)

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