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20th Century Lit Summative Entry

Do the interests, concerns and experiences of writers in the 20th Century assist 21st Century human beings in their understanding of the purpose of existence?

The question of what is one’s purpose to exist has been a question that’s been asked for centuries.  However, as the years go by, summatively, there is the conclusion drawn that there is really no definitive answer.

But the interests, concerns and experiences of writers in the 20th century do help assist in thinking what is part of a person’s existence.  This can be seen in several ways.

The first way is through the various war poems and the story All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque where we see the effects of war.  War takes a toll on human lives both directly through the soldiers and indirectly through their loved ones.  It is during the war that some of the best aspects of humanity can shine through such as loyalty, comradery, and empathy.  We see this through the closeness between Paul and Kat and how when the latter finally perishes, the former shuts down where he no longer cares what happens to him.  There is a reminder that part of a human being’s existence is that feeling of closeness and love as well as the ability to interact, befriend and care for others.

Another way is seen through Katherine Mansfield’s The Daughters of the Late Colonel where we see the titular girls finally free from their abusive father.  However, because they are so used to their submissive life, they do not act.  There is that inner conflict where what they yearn for is finally gained, yet in the end, because they were so used to such a restrictive life, there is fear of going through with it.  Fear of the unknown and fear of change.  This helps us to understand the purpose of existence by showing us internal conflicts between what we yearn for and what we do know and were used to.  Likewise, the notion of freedom is another essential aspect of what is the purpose of a person’s existence – to be free to do what we would like and be what we want to be without being forced into submission or being frowned at.

Adding to the above point, Orwell’s short story Shooting of an Elephant also highlights the pressure that human beings have where the protagonist, despite not wanting to kill the elephant, performs his part as the “scary and tough white man” to “put on a show” for the natives as well as his peers.  In Orwell’s other works, we also see the importance of language and how it is utilized.  Where in Politics of the English Language we see how the point and focus of a person’s thoughts are compromised in return for a pretentious vocabulary.  1984 also shows us another reason why language is so vital and how restricting it will also stunt a person’s freedom by taking away their freedom of expression.  With Orwell’s works, we see him assessing the importance of how language is used, and with its link to one’s freedom by expression, which goes back to that notion of freedom in Mansfield’s The Daughters of the Late Colonel.

Finally, with the assessment of nation, race and language, we see the anguish that is caused with disconnection to language.  Primarily with one’s own native tongue.  Phillip’s Discourse of the Logic of Language is an emotional reading of four different types of texts to highlight supposed links between intelligence and language.  All the texts also alludes to the sense of anguish at losing identity by losing one’s native tongue.  This is most especially seen with the first two texts that are creative pieces: a disjointed poem about mother and father tongues and a more metaphorical account of a mother passing down her tongue to her child.  With how that has to do with understanding a person’s existence, for some, losing identity is the same as losing a piece of a person’s existence.

When it comes to the question of what is the purpose of a human’s existence, there is really no definitive answer.  However, the interests, experiences and concerns of 20th century writers do express several points that can be considered as various aspects to answer that question.  Such answers include the human emotions of empathy, loyalty and love between people; the sense of freedom one feels to express his or herself without constraints; and that sense of identity that one feels that defines part of their being.

All of these traits are important things to remember in today’s time and age.where machines and technology have taken a huge aspect of our lives.  Communication in face-to-face situations becomes less common and globalization has the tendency to steal native tongues in return of one “united” language.

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