Literary Expressionism: Beginnings, Features and Representatives

He literary expressionism was one of the main artistic currents that developed during the twentieth century, during and after the First World War.

It was characterized by adopting subjective and spontaneous forms of expression that were also key to other vanguards of the time.

Literary Expressionism: Beginnings, Features and Representatives Federico García Lorca, representative of literary expressionism

Expressionist writers did not seek to represent objective reality, but rather emotions that the facts and the nature awoke in the personages. To reach this goal, they used strategies such as exaggeration, primitivism and fantasy.

As a result, Expressionists represented reality in a vivid, agitated, violent and dynamic way.

the beginning

Literary expressionism emerged as a reaction against the materialism, prosperity and values ​​of the bourgeoisie of the time.

The writers of this current were opposed in their texts to mechanization, urbanization and the predominance of the bourgeois family in European society.

The influences of Expressionism came mainly from philosophy. For example, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche laid an important foundation for the movement by transcending traditional ideas about reasoning and morality.

For his part, Spake Zarathustra was also a significant influence on expressionist thinking, as were symbolist poets like Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire through their exploration of dark emotional landscapes.

The main precursors of the expressionist literature were August Strindberg and Frank Wedeking. However, the first expressionist play itself was Reinhard Johannes Derge's"Der Bettler,"which was written in 1912 but made only until 1917.


Expressionist writers constructed a style of social protest with which they attempted to convey their critical ideas of society.

They sought to distort the objective characteristics of reality. For this, they used in their works symbolic and dream elements to illustrate the human sensibilities alienated by the society they criticized.

His criticisms were oriented to general situations, not to particular personalities. Therefore, they used in their works the allusions to symbolic types of personages, instead of alluding to individual personages.

Expressionist dramaturgy

Drama was one of the main genres of expressionist writers.

His interest was not in portraying the events of the outside world, but in the interior, that is, in the emotions and thoughts of the individuals. For this reason his works were interested in subjectively portraying mental states.

Usually, the main character of an expressionist work manifests its inner ills through long monologues.

In these expressions it expresses the spiritual malaise of the youth, the rebellion against the previous generations and the possible political and revolutionary ways.

Expressionist poetry

Expressionist poetry emerged at the same time as dramaturgy and shared some characteristics with it. Mainly, it moved away from the narration of reality and nature and was focused towards the exploration of emotions.

On the other hand, the aesthetics of expressionist poems sought a highly expressive lyricism with a great associative power.

His aim was to eliminate narrative and descriptions to try to express the essence of feelings: it was a condensed poetry that used chains of nouns, adjectives and verbs in infinitive.

The main themes that were addressed in Expressionist poetry were focused on the horror of urban life and the collapse of civilization. Some of these poets were pessimistic and expressed it through satires of bourgeois values.

However, there were other Expressionist poets who were concerned about the political and social transformations of the time. Therefore, they used their poetry to express the hope of a coming revolution.


Federico García Lorca

Federico García Lorca was born in Spain in June 1898 and died in August 1936. He published his first book in 1918 and in 1919 moved to Madrid, where he devoted himself to theater and began to write plays. However, his avant-garde works were not valued by the public.

As time went on, he continued to write plays but devoted himself more emphatically to poetry. His first literary success was the book titled" Gypsy Ballads ", Published in 1928.

Later, he was the director of a student theater company that toured rural Spain and stood out for its versions of classic works in modern versions.

During this time he wrote his expressionist play" Blood Wedding "Which was published in 1933 and constitutes his best known work.

In 1936 he was arrested and shot by nationalist militias for unknown reasons. However, his murder is attributed to his left thinking and his homosexuality. His body was thrown into an unnamed tomb.

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883 and died in Austria in June 1924. In 1906 Kafka began writing and publishing stories in the literary magazine of his friend Max Brod.

His narratives and novels represented an absurd vision of reality through symbols and metaphors. Nevertheless, they managed to be extremely lucid and clear, therefore they were comparable to parables or fables.

As in the case of Metamorphosis , his most recognized work, the characters of Kafka are often submerged in incomprehensible worlds, away from reality but in contact with their deepest feelings.

Kafka died of tuberculosis in June 1924, prompting his friend Brod to burn all the manuscripts of his unfinished stories. However, contrary to his wishes, his friend devoted himself to publishing them during the following decades.

Frank Wedekind

Frank Wedekind was born in Hannover, Germany, in July 1864 and died in Munich in March 1918. He was one of the first German playwrights to experiment with Expressionist techniques.

In his works his contempt for bourgeois society became evident. He used to attack hypocrisy and repressive sexual customs. In works like" Pandora's box "Openly represented sexual repression and invited the release of the public.

His approach was didactic, therefore it included very stylized dialogues and extravagant characters. In addition, the plot and the episodes were free and controversial with the aim of shocking the audience and remove it from their complacency.


  1. Franz Kafka Online. (S.F.). Franz Kafka Biography. Recovered from:
  2. Literary Movements for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Literary Movements. (2009). Expressionism. Retrieved from:
  3. (S.F.). Federico García Lorca. Retrieved from:
  4. The editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2017). Expressionism. Recovered from:

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