In this topic guide we explain postmodernism and its characteristics. We mainly focus on postmodern literature, but also include many examples of postmodern movies and tv series. When we use the terms “text” and “fiction” in this guide, it often includes media texts.

We first give you a definition of postmodernism before focusing on stylistic traits such as metafiction, fragmentation and pastiche, intertextuality, black humor and irony, and postmodern literature. Learning about these aspects will help you understand postmodernism as a movement and will also make it easier to analyze texts with postmodern characteristics.

If you want a brief overview of postmodernism, you can find it here.

Postmodernism is sometimes also spelled post-modernism.


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Unreliable narrators

Postmodern metafiction can also take the form of an unreliable narrator. As readers, we normally trust the narrator, but in postmodern fiction the narrator may be fooling himself or outright lying, which colors our perception of the story. This forces the readers to take on a more active role and try to work out how things really are.

The use of unreliable narrators is linked to the postmodern idea that truth is relative. There is no truth - it all depends on who you ask. The same goes for identity; one person can in fact have multiple identities depending on the situation.

A good example of a potentially unreliable narrator is the one we meet in American Psycho (1991) by Bret Easton Ellis. The narrator believes that he becomes a serial killer, but the novel leaves enough ambiguity for us to wonder whether it is all in his mind or not.

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