Sarah Jane Chrysler
May 1, 2019
Real Religion in Twentieth Century Modernist Texts
Religion is one of those hotly debated topics that is on the taboo list of things to not bring up at a dinner party; politics, economics, and religion. In the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, with the movement of many novels going from a more naturalistic style of those in the early part of the century, to something more modernist. With the directions of the world changing at rapid speeds that seemed to be increasing on the daily, this movement to modernism was the literary response to it all. Modernism brought in larger questions than many novelists before their time were willing to ask, let alone look for the answers to. These were questions of the meaning of life, how values came to be, and what people truly believed in. Two pieces that handled this movement in vastly different ways are; Willa Cather’s, My Antonia, and William Faulkner's, Light In August. While completely different settings and characters, these two novels tackle the difficult conversation of religion and spirituality in vastly different ways. While one is more outright in having the necessary conversations about religious and spiritual differences in the world, the other takes more of an understated approach with symbolic notions. It is simple to ignore or even leave the larger religious and spiritual contexts of both books unnoticed. While in My Antonia the religious differences between the two main characters are evident and clear to the reader, they are less so in Light In August. Rather than outright they are more symbolic. These two novels achieve religious and spiritual contexts while keeping it out of the forefront of the reader’s thought.
In the first mentoned novel, by Willa Cather, My Antonia, religion is something that is sort of skirted around as the Shimerdas and the Burdens are aware that they have religious differences and try to do the correct things for what their own beliefs. The interesting part about the fact that their religious differences are so apparent during all of this is it is just one part of the very apparent differences that these two families are facing, but in all of that their religion is a huge part of their identities and how they have built their own personal self images. While Antonia is Catholic as much of the european population in the United States was at the time, this was quite different than much of the native american population that was Protestant, as the Burdens were. Although the exact years are not know it is estimated that the story is taking place roughly, between 1890-1910. Along with this period of time comes the ideals that came with the manifest destiny movement of the time came the importance by many immigrants to maintain some sort of identity to their past lives in the countries that they came from. The Catholic and Protestant differences are just one of the...