Postmodernism in Literature: Key Themes & Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is Postmodernism in Literature?
  2. Theme of Absurdity
  3. Theme of Metafiction
  4. Technique of Pastiche
  5. Technique of Parody
  6. Theme of Time and Space
  7. Theme of Deconstruction
  8. Technique of Magical Realism
  9. Theme of Identity and Individualism
  10. Technique of Inter-textuality

Do you know that feeling when you read a book and it seems like the author is playing games with you? Maybe they're messing around with the way the story is told, or maybe the characters in the book are aware they're in a book. Sounds wild, doesn't it? Welcome to the world of postmodernism in literature. In this blog, we'll do some exploring postmodernism in literature, diving into its key themes and techniques. So, let's get started, shall we?

What is Postmodernism in Literature?

Postmodernism in literature is a style of writing that came to prominence after World War II. It's like a funhouse mirror—distorting and challenging our perceptions of what literature should be. It's a reaction against established forms, structures, and ideas, often poking fun at them and turning them on their head.

Imagine you're building a sandcastle, but instead of a traditional design, you mix together different architectural styles, make the walls curve in weird ways, and maybe put a dragon on top just for fun. That's kind of what postmodernism in literature is like. The authors are playing with our expectations, using innovation and experimentation to give us a fresh way of looking at the world.

When you're exploring postmodernism in literature, you'll notice it features a number of themes and techniques. Here are a few you're likely to encounter:

  • Absurdity: This is when things happen in the story that just don't make sense. It's like the author is reminding us that this is all make-believe.
  • Metafiction: This is when a book is aware it's a book. The characters might talk about being in a novel, or the author might interrupt the story to comment on it.
  • Pastiche: This is when an author mixes together different styles and genres. It's like a literary collage.
  • Parody: This is when an author makes fun of other works of literature, or of common literary conventions.

So, if you're up for an adventure—exploring postmodernism in literature is like going on a literary treasure hunt. You never know what you're going to find, but you can be sure it'll be interesting.

Theme of Absurdity

Let's kick things off with an exploration of the theme of absurdity in postmodern literature. Now, absurdity doesn't mean the writing is silly or pointless—far from it. Instead, the absurd in postmodern literature is all about challenging our assumptions and making us question what we think we know. It's like a magic trick that makes the impossible seem possible.

Imagine you're reading a story where a man wakes up to find he's turned into a giant bug. Sound bizarre? Well, that's exactly what happens in Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," a classic example of the absurd in literature. The idea of a man-bug might seem crazy, but it's used to explore serious themes like alienation, guilt, and the human condition.

So, when you're exploring postmodernism in literature and you come across something absurd, don't dismiss it as nonsense. Instead, ask yourself: What is the author trying to say? What assumptions are being challenged? How does this make me see the world differently?

By doing this, you'll be digging into the true spirit of postmodernism, where the absurd is used to make us think, question, and see the world with fresh eyes. So, the next time you see a man-bug, don't run away—embrace the absurdity!

Theme of Metafiction

Alright, moving on to our next stop in exploring postmodernism in literature: metafiction. What is metafiction, you ask? Well, in simple terms, it's a story that knows it's a story. It's a book that winks at you from the page and says, "Hey, I know I'm just words on paper, but let's have some fun with that."

For example, in "If on a Winter's Night a Traveler" by Italo Calvino, the novel starts with you, the reader, reading the book. You're not just a passive observer—you're an active participant. The book talks about you reading it, comments on its own structure, and even has false starts where narratives begin and then abruptly end. It's a wild ride!

So why do postmodern authors use metafiction? Well, it's a way to explore the nature of storytelling itself. It makes us question why we tell stories, how we tell stories, and what those stories say about us. It's like holding up a mirror to the act of reading and writing.

So, as you continue exploring postmodernism in literature, don't be surprised if the book starts talking back to you. That's just metafiction doing its thing—making us think about the stories we tell and the ways we tell them.

Technique of Pastiche

Ever watched a movie that was a mix of different film genres? Or listened to a song that combined various music styles? If yes, then you've encountered pastiche, another key element we come across when exploring postmodernism in literature.

Pastiche is somewhat like a collage. It's when an author mixes different styles, genres, or characters from various sources into one story. But unlike parody, there's no mocking or satirical intent behind it. It's all about celebrating diversity and complexity.

One of the best examples of pastiche in literature is "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot. This poem borrows heavily from different cultures, languages, and literary works. It's like a literary jigsaw puzzle!

Why do authors use pastiche? It's a way of reflecting our complex, diverse world. Our lives are a mix of different experiences, cultures, and influences, and pastiche captures that beautifully. So next time you're reading a book and it feels like the author has thrown everything but the kitchen sink into it, you're probably looking at pastiche. It's a bit messy, a bit chaotic, but also a whole lot of fun.

So, remember, when exploring postmodernism in literature, don't be surprised if you see a samurai in a Western or a detective in a fantasy novel. That's just postmodernism's pastiche way of saying life is diverse, complex, and wonderfully unpredictable.

Technique of Parody

Now, let's talk about parody, another technique you'll find when exploring postmodernism in literature. Unlike pastiche, parody is all about humor and satire. It's like a playful jab at something—be it a genre, a character, or an idea—through imitation.

Parody takes something we know well and twists it in a way that makes us laugh or think. It's a bit like seeing a famous painting but with funny mustaches drawn on all the characters. The aim is not to offend, but to make us question and re-evaluate what we know.

One of the famous examples of parody in literature is "Don Quixote" by Miguel de Cervantes. This novel makes fun of chivalric romances that were popular during Cervantes' time. Instead of a noble, heroic knight, we get Don Quixote, a delusional man who thinks windmills are giants. It makes you chuckle, but it also makes you question the idea of heroism.

So, why do authors use parody? Well, it's a fun way of challenging our beliefs and expectations. It's also a way of poking fun at the seriousness and pretentiousness of traditional literature. When you're exploring postmodernism in literature, you'll find that it doesn't take itself too seriously, and parody is a big part of that.

So, grab your favorite book, add a bit of humor and irony, and what do you get? A postmodern parody that's guaranteed to make you laugh and think. Now, isn't that a fun way to explore literature?

Theme of Time and Space

As you delve deeper into exploring postmodernism in literature, you'll stumble upon the fascinating theme of time and space. This isn't about rocket ships and time machines, but rather how authors play with the concepts of time and space in their storytelling.

In traditional literature, stories usually follow a straightforward timeline and a consistent setting. However, postmodern authors love to mix things up. They might tell a story backwards, jump between different time periods, or even set a story in multiple places at once.

Take Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five" as an example. The story bounces around from the protagonist's experiences in World War II, to his regular life as an optometrist, and even to his time spent on an alien planet. It's a wild ride that completely redefines our understanding of time and space in a narrative.

Why do postmodernists do this? It's all about showing that reality isn't as fixed and stable as we might think. It challenges our perception of the world and invites us to see things from a new perspective.

So, next time you're exploring postmodernism in literature, see if you can spot how authors play with time and space. It's like a literary game of hide-and-seek, and you're it!

Theme of Deconstruction

Another interesting stop on our journey exploring postmodernism in literature is the theme of deconstruction. Now, before you start picturing sledgehammers and wrecking balls, let's clarify what we mean by deconstruction in this context.

Deconstruction in postmodern literature isn't about demolishing buildings, but about tearing apart ideas and assumptions. It's about questioning the 'truths' that we take for granted, and showing that they might not be as solid as we think.

For instance, imagine a story where the hero doesn't save the day and the villain isn't really evil. This kind of plot shakes up our expectations and makes us question the traditional roles of heroes and villains. That's deconstruction in action.

A prime example of this is "Watchmen" by Alan Moore. It's a graphic novel that deconstructs the superhero genre by portraying superheroes as flawed and human, rather than idealized symbols of justice. It's a bold move that challenges the reader's perception of what a superhero should be.

So, as you continue exploring postmodernism in literature, look out for this theme of deconstruction. It's a thought-provoking tool that really makes you question everything you thought you knew.

Technique of Magical Realism

As we continue our journey exploring postmodernism in literature, let's dive into a magical world, a world where the ordinary meets the extraordinary. This is the realm of magical realism.

Magical realism is a technique where magical elements are blended into a realistic atmosphere in order to access a deeper understanding of reality. These magical elements are presented in such a way that they feel normal, even mundane. It's like walking down a familiar street and suddenly seeing a unicorn grazing in your neighbor's garden. It sounds crazy, but in the world of magical realism, it's just another Tuesday.

Take Gabriel García Márquez's novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude" as an example. In this book, a girl ascends to heaven while doing laundry and a man lives for over a hundred years. These events are described in the same matter-of-fact tone as a trip to the grocery store. The magic is woven into the fabric of everyday life.

So, when you're exploring postmodernism in literature, keep an eye out for these moments of magical realism. They're a way of seeing the world from a fresh perspective, a reminder that there's more to life than what meets the eye.

Theme of Identity and Individualism

When you think about exploring postmodernism in literature, the theme of identity and individualism is one you will surely bump into. It's a theme that deals with questions like: Who are we? Do we have a fixed identity or do we change as we go along?

Postmodern literature often shows characters who are struggling with their identity, who are trying to understand themselves and their place in the world. These characters could be anyone — like you, me, or the person sitting next to you on the bus.

Let's take a look at the novel "Fight Club" by Chuck Palahniuk. The main character, who remains nameless throughout the book, creates a fictional alter ego named Tyler Durden. This reflects his struggle with his own identity — he's torn between who he is and who he wants to be.

In many ways, the theme of identity and individualism in postmodern literature mirrors our own struggles. We all have moments when we question our identity, our individuality, and our place in the world. So, as you continue exploring postmodernism in literature, remember to reflect on your own journey of self-discovery. You might find that you have more in common with these characters than you think.

Technique of Inter-textuality

As you're exploring postmodernism in literature, you'll quickly notice that these works love to talk to each other. They're like a group of friends at a party, each trying to outshine the other with witty remarks. This is where the technique of inter-textuality comes in.

Inter-textuality is a fancy way of saying that a piece of literature references another work. It can be a subtle nod to a famous line or a bold retelling of a classic tale. It's like when you spot an Easter egg in a movie that references another film — it makes you feel like you're in on a secret.

Take a look at "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham. This book is a clear example of inter-textuality as it weaves together the lives of three women, including Virginia Woolf, and uses Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway" as a central theme. This book doesn't just reference "Mrs. Dalloway"; it explores and reinterprets it, making the original story part of its own narrative.

So, as you continue your journey in exploring postmodernism in literature, keep an eye out for these connections. They can add a whole new layer of meaning to the story and make your reading experience even more enjoyable.

If you're intrigued by postmodernism in literature and want to explore its themes and techniques further, check out the workshop 'Navigating Life VI' by Rabih Salloum. This workshop will provide you with a deeper understanding of postmodernism and its impact on contemporary literature, helping you navigate its complexities and appreciate its artistic value.