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T.S. Eliot'S "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock" As A Modernist Work

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T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" as a Modernist Work

T.S. Eliot sat at the cusp of the twentieth century and, dually, the modernist period. This period was marked by changes on the outside of people's lives with things such as war, technological advancement, and class struggles all occurring throughout the period. There was also change taking place on the inside of people's lives. Self-reflection, self-awareness, and the human psyche were brought into question and served as focal points within many literary and artistic works of the time. Eliot, in writing "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" , painted the reader a vivid picture of many of the emotions and issues that were present during this time and, in doing so, emerged as one of the pinnacle writers of this era.

The first reason this work can be seen as modernist is through the atmosphere created by the narrator. The period of time in which the modernist era of poetry existed was, as the title suggests, becoming increasingly more modern. Factories were beginning to use modern machinery to manufacture goods and vehicles with combustion engines were becoming common modes of transportation. These types of machines emitted smog which created an unnatural haze in both urban and industrial areas. Eliot paints the reader a picture of this type of environment with just two lines that he has Prufrock utter, "The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes, / The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes" (15-16). From this, and a few other more subtle references, the reader is able to depict Prufrock in a modern, city setting.

Another reason this poem can be said to be that of a modernist work is because of its narrator. This character, named J. Alfred Prufrock, is the classic modern man. He is much more educated than what serves him good, emotionally conflicted, delusional, and questions his role within society. Throughout the course of this poem the reader is able to take a scenic glimpse inside the tormented mind of this individual.

The language of the poem, as well as the things that the narrator relates to the reader, both give the impression that he is an educated man. He speaks of things that are uncommon to the lower, working-class. From the inclusion of the sculptor Michelangelo, to the taking of tea and cakes, these types of things were reserved for the educated class. Prufrock even speaks of scholarly work when he has "...time yet for a hundred indecisions, / And for a hundred visions and revisions," (32-33). The word choice here is what creates the idea of intellectual activity. The word "revision" gives the reader the image of him working on an essay or a novel perhaps; again, both activities reserved for the educated man.

Prufrock may be educated, but this does not alleviate the emotional confliction that he experiences throughout this poem. He is very upfront about this when he claims that "It is impossible to say just what I mean!" (104). As educated as he very well may be, it does him no good and this leads to his frustration and outrage. Maybe it is impossible for him to come out with what he means because he himself does not know? If he does, maybe he is simply too scared to attempt to say it?

While he does come out and confesses his indecisive and conflicted state directly, it is already made obvious earlier in the poem. Most of his frustration is caused by his feelings of inadequacy with women. He speaks of the things he could do with them and hints at the possibilities that exist, but he does not feel qualified to pursue them. He lets his physical attributes take the blame for his conflicted state when he describes himself and states, "With a bald spot in the middle of my hairЇ / (They will say: 'How



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