Difference Between Modernism and Postmodernism

Main Difference – Modernism vs Postmodernism

Modernism and postmodernism are two literary movements that took place in the late 19th and 20th century. Modernism is the deliberate break from the traditional form of poetry and prose that took place in the late 19th and early 20th century. Postmodernism, a movement that began in the mid 20th century, is often described as a reaction against modernism. The main difference between modernism and postmodernism is that modernism is characterized by the radical break from the traditional forms of prose and verse whereas postmodernism is characterized by the self-conscious use of earlier styles and conventions.

What is Modernism

Modernism is a movement in literature that took place during late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly in North America and Europe. Modernism marks a strong and deliberate break from the traditional styles of prose and poetry. The horrors of the First World War and the changing ideas about reality developed by prominent figures such as Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, etc. illustrated the need for the prevailing assumptions about the society to be reassessed.

Modernists experimented with new forms and styles. Irony, satire, stream-of-consciousness, interior monologue, use of multiple points-of-view, and comparison were popular literary techniques in the modernist literature. Championship of the individual and celebration of inner strength, alienation, loss, and despair were common themes of the movement. The idea of reality underwent a major change during this movement. The reality was seen as a constructed fiction since modernists believed that the reality is created in the act of perceiving it; basically, they believed that the world is what we say it is.

D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Wolf, James Joyce, W.B Yeast, Sylvia Plath, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway are some notable modernist authors. James Joyce’s Ulysses, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land are some notable literary works that epitomize modernism.

Difference Between Modernism and Postmodernism (in Literature)

James Joyce

What is Postmodernism

Postmodernism was a reaction against modernism, brought about by the disillusionment followed by the Second world war. Postmodernism is characterized by the deliberate use of earlier styles and conventions, a mixing of different artistic styles and media, and a general distrust of theories. It can be seen as a radical break from modernism when we look at some unique features of postmodernism. Some of these features include,

Irony and parody: Postmodernism works are often characterized by irony and satire. They demonstrate playful, mischievous vibe and a love of satirical humor.

Pastiche: Copying ideas and styles from various authors and combining them to make a new style.

Metafiction: Making the readers aware that of the fictional nature of the text they are reading.

Intertextuality: Acknowledging other texts and referring to them in a text.

Faction: Mixing of actual events and fictional events without mentioning what is real and what is fictional.

Paranoia: The distrust in the system and even the distrust of the self.

Some notable writers in postmodernism include  Vladimir Nabokov,  Umberto Eco, John Hawkes,  Richard Kalich, Giannina Braschi, Kurt Vonnegut, William Gaddis,  John Barth, Jean Rhys, Donald Barthelme, E.L. Doctorow,  Don DeLillo, Ana Lydia Vega, Jachym Topol and Paul Auster.

Main Difference - Modernism vs Postmodernism (in Literature)

Vladimir Nabokov

Difference Between Modernism and Postmodernism


Modernism is a late 19th century and early 20th-century style, or movement that aims to depart significantly from classical and traditional forms.

Postmodernism is a  late 20th-century style and concept which represents a departure from modernism and is characterized by the deliberate use of earlier styles and conventions, a mixing of different styles and forms, and a general distrust of theories.

Time Frame

Modernism was prevalent from late 19th century and early 20th-century style.

Postmodernism was prevalent from the mid-twentieth century.    


Modernism was influenced by first world war.

Postmodernism was influenced by the second world war.

Rational and Logical Thinking

Modernism was based on using rational and logical means to gain knowledge since it rejected realism.

Postmodernism was based on an unscientific, irrational thought process, and it rejected logical thinking.

Earlier Styles

Modernism rejected the conventional styles of prose and poetry.

Postmodernism deliberately uses a mixture of conventional styles.Difference Between Modernism and Postmodernism - Comparison Summary

Image Courtesy:

“Vladimir Nabokov, Montreux, October 1969” by Giuseppe Pino (Mondadori Publishers) – (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

“Revolutionary Joyce Better Contrast” by from Cornell Joyce Collection (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.