Literary Expressionism: Beginnings, Characteristics, Representatives

The literary expressionism was one of the main artistic trends that developed during the twentieth century, during and after World War One . It was characterized by adopting subjective and spontaneous forms of expression that were also key to other avant-gardes of the time.

Expressionist writers did not seek to represent objective reality, but rather the emotions that facts and nature aroused in the characters. To achieve this goal, they employed strategies such as exaggeration, primitivism, and fantasy.

As a result, the 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 dominance 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 also represented an important influence on Expressionist thought, as did Symbolist poets such as Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire thanks to his exploration of dark emotional landscapes.

The main precursors of expressionist literature were August Strindberg and Frank Wedeking. However, the first proper expressionist play was Reinhard Johannes Sorge’s “Der Bettler”, which was written in 1912 but performed only until 1917.


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

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

His criticisms were oriented to general situations, not to particular characters. Therefore, they used within their works allusions to symbolic types of characters, instead of alluding to individual characters.

Expressionist Dramaturgy

Dramaturgy was one of the main genres that expressionist writers worked on.

His interest was not put in portraying the events of the external world, but in the interior, that is, in the emotions and thoughts of individuals. For this reason her works were interested in portraying mental states in a subjective way.

Usually, the main character in an expressionist work manifests his inner ills through long monologues.

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

Expressionist poetry

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

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

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

The main themes that were addressed in expressionist poetry were focused on the horror of urban life and the collapse of civilization. A certain part 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 Garcia 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 he moved to Madrid, where he devoted himself to the theater and began to write plays. However, his avant-garde works were not appreciated by the public.

As time passed, he continued to write plays but devoted himself more to poetry. His first literary success was the book entitled ” Gypsy Ballads “, published in 1928.

Later, he was the director of a student theater company that toured rural Spain and stood out for his 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 the nationalist militias for unknown reasons. However, his murder is attributed to his left-wing thinking and his homosexuality. His body was thrown into a nameless grave.

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

As in the case of La Metamorfosis , his most recognized work, Kafka’s characters tend to find themselves immersed in incomprehensible worlds, far from reality but in contact with their deepest feelings.

Kafka passed away from tuberculosis in June 1924, requesting his friend Brod to burn all the manuscripts of his unfinished stories. However, against his wishes, his friend dedicated himself to publishing them for the next several 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.

His contempt for bourgeois society was evident in his works. He used to attack hypocrisy and repressive sexual mores. In works like ” Pandora’s Box ” he openly represented sexual repression and invited the liberation of the public.

Its approach was didactic, therefore it included highly stylized dialogue and quirky characters. In addition, the plots and episodes were free and controversial in order to shock the audience and get them out of their complacency.


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

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