Narrative since World War II resists generalization: It is extremely various and multifaceted. It has been vitalized by international currents such as European existentialism and Latin American magical realism, while the electronic era has brought the global village. The spoken word on television has given new life to oral tradition. Oral genres, media, and popular culture have increasingly influenced narrative.

In the past, elite culture influenced popular culture through its status and example; the reverse seems true in the United States today. Serious novelists like Thomas Pynchon, Joyce Carol Oates, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Alice Walker, and E.L. Doctorow have borrowed from and commented on comics, movies, fashions, songs, and oral history.

To say this is not to trivialize recent literature: Writers in the United States are asking serious questions, many of them of a metaphysical nature. Writers have become highly innovative and self-aware, or "reflexive." Often they find traditional modes ineffective and seek vitality in more widely popular material. To put it another way: American writers, in recent decades, have developed a post-modern sensibility. Modernist restructurings of point of view no longer suffice for them: Rather, the context of vision must be made new.