Earle Birney: Poems

The Critique of Modernity in “Anglosaxon Street” and Obasan

Earle Birney’s poem “Anglosaxon Street” and Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan both present a powerful critique of modern life, though the former is delivered through sarcastic humor while the latter is portrayed through poignant emotions. Modernity in “Anglosaxon Street” is depicted through paralyzed human passivity and emotional sterility. Against the backdrop of modern spiritual bankruptcy portrayed in “Anglosaxon Street,” modernity fully exposes its devastating destructiveness in Obasan. Although modernity favors the improvement of human welfare through increasing productivity and efficiency, it also possesses a darker, more sinister aspect behind its outward façade of human progress. The dark side of modernity is reflected through its standardized living in dreary uniformity, the blind deference of its citizens to state authority, the destructive capacity of the state to indoctrinate mass beliefs through the modern communication system, and its people’s psychological vulnerability to the blandishment of modern propaganda. In both texts, the instruments of modernity become notoriously employed for racial persecution and human alienation; in both texts, the modern communication system produces mass hatred through the systematic...

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