20th century literature historical context, characteristics, themes, authors

Simon Doyle

The 20th century literature It was developed within a historical context marked by the First and Second World War, by the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and as a consequence by modernism. In addition, a good number of intellectuals agreed with the need for changes in the academic norms of the time.

In the literature of the 20th century, a series of movements were born that modified the way in which poetry and narrative were made. In this sense, the texts were freer and more creative, full of expressiveness and a personal and intimate character. At the same time, the writers developed themes about existence, religion and the social.

Juan Ramón Jiménez, one of the most representative Spanish authors of the 20th century. Source: See page for author [Public domain]

Within the literary movements that emerged in the twentieth century, surrealism, creationism, expressionism, Dadaism and modernism stand out. Each trend with specific characteristics, but all focused on breaking with the strict and ornate parameters of previous literary styles..

There were many intellectuals who excelled in the literary field of the 20th century, in almost all countries there were prominent representatives of all the avant-gardes. Some of the most prominent authors were: Rubén Darío, Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Miguel Unamuno, Rómulo Gallegos, Andrés Eloy Blanco and Miguel Otero Silva.

Article index

  • 1 Historical context
  • 2 Features
    • 2.1 Origin
    • 2.2 Breach of standards
    • 2.3 Movements
    • 2.4 Theme
    • 2.5 Universality
    • 2.6 Link with other arts
    • 2.7 The non-linear temporal and verbal chronology
    • 2.8 Narrator
  • 3 Topics
  • 4 Representative authors and their works
    • 4.1 - Spain
    • 4.2 - Mexico
    • 4.3 - Colombia
    • 4.4 - Argentina
    • 4.5 - Venezuela
  • 5 References

Historic context

The literature of the 20th century made its way into a world convulsed by wars, technological and industrial advances. In this sense, many writers became attached to the surrealist movement as a way of shedding the consequences of war conflicts..

Later the authors adjusted to the different political revolutions. Consequently, literature came to have a certain social and political tinge, at the same time it became more reflective. With the outbreak of World War II, the authors focused on issues related to the existence of man..

Subsequently, the rise of feminism began and intellectuals focused on issues related to women.

Now, in the case of the societies of Spain and Latin America, they transitioned from dictatorship to democracy. So literature went through a stage of censorship until it reached an expressive freedom that allowed writers to develop diverse themes in all areas..


The literature of the 20th century was characterized by the following aspects:


The literature of the twentieth century was born in the midst of different conflicts that made the authors react with respect to the perception of the world and of life. In addition, it developed in full growth of scientific and technological advances, which produced that the poetic, theatrical and narrative texts had considerable modernist airs..

Breaking of norms

The political and social changes awakened a new consciousness and thinking in the writers of the 20th century. Due. These focused on sensitive issues related to man and moved away from the academicisms that prevailed until then. In such a way that literature became freer.

Gone was rhyme and meter for many authors, and the theme and message prevailed over the beauty of forms. The collection of poems Eternities (1918) by Juan Ramón Jiménez is proof of the rupture of verses and stanzas, both in meter and in rhyme. The poetic freedom that the author considers in this work is total.


In the literature of the 20th century, new forms of creation were experimented with and this is how a variety of movements arose at different times. Each literary trend brought with it new methods, modifications, content and characteristic features.

Some of these movements were: surrealism, noucentism, creationism, magical realism and other avant-gardes. Perhaps the greatest representative of magical realism was the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriel García Márquez, being One hundred years of loneliness (1967) his masterpiece.


The main themes developed by the authors of 20th century literature were related to the state of anguish and despair of man before the different changes and wars. So the texts became a reflection of the search for identity and the sense of belonging..

Later the religious theme was addressed, which focused on the existence or not of God. The debate arose between some writers due to the different tragedies that humanity suffered. Then literature went through a stage of reflection, freedom and questioning about the creative capacity and the function of literature.

If there was an author whose work reflected his disagreement with the authoritarian government of the day, that was Federico García Lorca. His work Bernarda Alba's house (1936) is proof of this. There are scholars who consider that his disappearance was due to the content of said text.


Although literature has been known throughout history, it is also true that it was a privilege of few. During the 20th century it adopted a more universal character, this was due to the fact that it was freer in terms of style and creation. In this sense, the writers exchanged cultural traits and reflected them in several of their works..

Miguel Unamuno's work is one of the greatest examples of the universality of Spanish literature. Both in Fog (1914) and Saint Manuel Bueno, martyr (1930) you can perceive this quality.

Link with other arts

Characteristic features of 20th century literature influenced other arts. This meant that painting, music or sculpture reflected the different styles and freedom of creation that manifested itself in narrative, poetry and theater..

The non-linear temporal and verbal chronology

Many of the authors of 20th century literature developed their works without a logical sense of time. In other words, the content of some texts was not produced in chronological order. In this sense, the works were exhibited in a mixture of past, present and future.

An accurate example of non-linear temporal chronology proves it Hours (1982) by Julio Cortázar. In the book the author not only plays with non-linearity, but mixes the times with each other. This narrative strategy plays with the minds of the readers and at the same time demonstrates the genius of the writer.


In 20th century literature, authors made use of different types of narrators (protagonist, witness, second person). This allowed the development of more dynamic and empathetic texts with the reader. At the same time, the versatility in the storytelling provided different perspectives on different themes..

A clear and masterful example represents it Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. In the work, the author makes use of various types of narrator, highlighting the protagonist and third-person narrator. Due to this quality, his novel is considered a polyphonic work in his narrative..


As mentioned in previous lines, the works of 20th century literature developed themes related to loneliness, confusion, hopelessness, anguish, alienation and the despair of man in the face of political and social changes.

Gabriel García Márquez, one of the most important Colombian authors of the 20th century. Source: Gabriel_Garcia_Marquez, _2009_2.jpg: Guadalajara International Film Festivalderivative work: PRA [CC BY]

The writers reflected the absence of identity and their texts were the way to find it. With the passage of time, literature was projected towards the encounter of the human being with himself, that is, it was more reflective and profound. This approach produced a fantasy universe in the middle of the century..

It was also written about friendship, culture, politics, society, the role of women and new technological trends..

Representative authors and their works

The most prominent authors and representatives of the 20th century are listed below:

- Spain

Federico Garcia Lorca

- Cante jondo poem (1921).

- Gypsy romance (1928).

- Blood Wedding (1933).

- Yerma (1934).

- Doña Rosita the single or The language of flowers (1935).

- Bernarda Alba's house (1936).

Antonio Machado

- Solitudes. Galleries Other poems (1907).

- Castile fields (1912).

- Juan de Mairena. Sentences, donaires, notes and memories of an apocryphal teacher (1936).

- Unfortunate fortune or Julianillo Valcárcel (1926).

- Oleanders (1928).

- The Duchess of Benamejí (1932).

Rafael Alberti

- Sailor ashore (1925).

- About angels (1929).

- Pleamar 1942-1944 (1944).

- The uninhabited man (1930).

- From one moment to another (1938).

- Night of war at the Prado Museum (1956).

Miguel de Unamuno

- Love and pedagogy (1902).

- Fog (1914).

- Saint Manuel Bueno, martyr (1930).

- The Christ of Velásquez (1920).

- The other (1926).

- Brother john or The world is theater (1929).

Rosa Chacel

- Station. Round trip (1930).

- Teresa (1941).

- Over the sea (1952).

- Balaam and other tales (1989).

- At the edge of a well (1936).

- Forbidden verses (1978).

Juan Ramon Jimenez

- Regrettable Elegies (1910).

- Spring ballads (1910).

- Labyrinth (1913).

- Platero and me (1914).

- Eternities (1918).

- Total station (1946).

- Mexico

Octavio Paz

- Sun stone (1957).

- Parole. Poetic work 1935-1957 (1960).

- Salamander (1962).

- The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950).

- Postscript (1970).

- The double flame (1993).

Juan Rulfo

- Life is not very serious in its things (1945).

- The Burning Plain (1953).

- A piece of night (1959).

- Pedro Paramo (1955).

- The golden rooster (1980).

Rosario Castellano

- Balún Canán (1957).

- Office of darkness (1962).

- Family album (1971).

- The rescue of the world (1952).

- The verbatim (1959).

- The sea and its fish (1975).

Jose Emilio Pacheco

- The elements of the night (1963).

- You will go and you will not return (1973).

- The distant wind (1963).

- The pleasure principle (1972).

- You will die away (1967).

- The battles in the desert (nineteen eighty one).

Amparo Davila

- Shattered time (1959).

- Petrified trees (1977).

- Death in the woods (1985).

- Psalms under the moon (1950).

- Meditations on the edge of sleep (1954).

- Profile of loneliness (1954).

Juan Jose Arreola

- Various invention (1949).

- Conspiracy (1952).

- Palindrome (1971).

- Bestiary (1972).

- The fair (1963).

- The word education (1973).

- Colombia

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

- One hundred years of loneliness (1967).

- The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975).

- Love in the time of cholera (1985).

- Love and Other Demons (1994).

- The funerals of Big Mom (1962).

- Twelve Pilgrim Tales (1992).

Mercedes carranza

- Pods and other poems (1972).

- TandI'm scared (1983).

- Ways of heartbreak (1993).

- Hi loneliness (1987).

- The song of the flies (1997).

- The homeland and other ruins (Posthumous edition, 2004).

Andres Caicedo

- Long live music! (1977).

- Night without fortune (1976).

- The Statue of the Tin Soldier (1967).

- Fatal Destinations (1984).

- Maternity (1974).

- The Pretender (1972).

Fernando Vallejo placeholder image

- The river of time (1985-1993).

- The blue days (1985).

- Secret fire (1987).

- The roads to Rome (1988).

- Among ghosts (1993).

- Years of indulgence (1989).

- Argentina

Jorge Luis Borges

- Moon in front (1925).

- The maker (1960).

- The Aleph (1949).

- The sand book (1975).

Julio Cortazar

- Hopscotch (1963).

- 62 Buildable model (1968).

- Bestiary (1951).

- Hours (1982).

Graciela Beatriz Cabal

- Hyacinth (1977).

- The Constitution is a serious thing (1986).

- The right to learn (1986).

- Tickle in the navel (1990).

Ricardo Piglia

- Artificial respiration (1980).

- Burnt silver (1997).

- The invasion (1967).

- False name (1975).

- Venezuela

Romulo Gallegos

- The climber (1925).

- Miss Barbara (1929).

- Canaima (1935).

- Poor black (1937).

Rufino Blanco Fombona

- The sword and the samurai (1924).

- The beauty and the beast (1931).

- The secret of happiness (1933).

- Golden cobs (1943).

Andrés Eloy Blanco

- Lands that heard me (1921).

- Pruning (1934).

- Giraluna (1955).

- The spinner (1954).

Antonieta Madrid

- Everyday nomenclature (1971).

- Rag Relics (1972).

- This is no time for red roses (1975).

- Fish eye (1990).


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