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The period between the two World Wars saw enormous transformation, not only to the greater America, but also to the world of art and literature. The aftermath of the World War 1 saw American writers taking residences in areas they considered a new modern world. They also dumped the outdated traditionalism and developed new techniques, which addressed new subjects. Modernism came along with numerous technological and societal changes. It came with a new sense of freedom and confusion. The moral standards that were governing the morals and behavior of individuals took a dramatic shift. Women started smoking in public and wore less constrictive clothing. Urbanization intensified, and more people flocked in the cities.
Modernism usually refers to a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period. Many cultures around the world moved from the feudalism system toward capitalism, industrialization, and a rationalized age. Because of this shift, art and literature tried to make sense of these transformations and came up with new forms of art that would conform to the modernist practice (Perkins & Perkins). Modernism was less concerned with the reality than with how the artist or writer could transform it. The modernists were fascinated by the bizarre, the mysterious, and the surreal.
T.S. Eliot was born in a well off Midwestern family and schooled in Harvard. He was a teacher and an influential literature critic. His poetry had immense influence on modern literature, and he was reckoned the new force in poetry. He wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” while still studying at Harvard in 1915 with the help of Ezra Pound. It has often been called the original masterpiece of Modernism. The poem addresses industrialization in cities, isolation, and the uneasiness being experienced around the world. The lyrics show the writer’s concern about the real issues in the world.
Fundamental and far-reaching cultural, historical, social, and economic drifts prompted “The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in the early 1990’s. It is a modernist poem in the form of a dramatic monologue where the writer reveals his inner feelings about certain topics. The speaker in the poem, Prufrock, is an insecure man whose life is dull and uneventful. The poem itself is a song of desire and failure. He finds himself in a situation that there is no way out. The poem begins with the speaker inviting “you” for a stroll through the streets of a certain city. The name of the city is unknown, but it appears to be a representative of other notable cities of modern western civilization. They visit a place where women talk about Michelangelo.
He is particularly insecure and fears making decisions. He feels troubled with his balding head and how thin his arms and legs are. Prufrock knows the society too well, and he does not like it. As a result, his world is repetitive and dull: “have known the evenings, mornings and afternoons” (Eliot). Prufrock is a man whose inadequacies have alienated him from the rest of the humanity. He does not see anything positive coming out of him or others. In addition, the worried wreck is afraid of making decisions like whether or not to approach women and make acquaintances. He is damned that his attempts will be met with frustratingly polite refusal. He feels that people will make a fool out of him due to his physical appearance and his clothing. All this show Prufrock’s passivity, his desire for inactivity and his reluctance to make that first move. In the end, Prufrock tries to get away from the world where he was defeated. As a result, he takes in self-mockery refuge. His lack of courage is a representation of frustration, impotence, and irresolution of a modern individual.
What he knows for sure is that reality does not matter much in today’s world, appearance does. It makes him so afraid of proposing to a woman. He is not comfortable in the society in which he lives in; he hates the superficial and miserable life that he is currently leading. Prufrock feels isolated in that alien world where he finds it hard to express his true emotions. He prefers talking to himself and suffering in silence. He is a representation of a person faced with the tribulations that come with the modern city life.
Hugh Kenner believes that T.S Elliot used the voice to express the issues and topics that concerned him. One of the major themes the poem addresses is the ‘dryness’ of the modern world. The world is busy hence making communication a difficult task. It becomes hard and frustrating to relay important messages. The communication channels have failed terribly and at times people resort to monologue and continue to suffer in silence. It has also led to increased loneliness and feeling of isolation.
By concluding, ‘The, Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is modern in tone and diction while retaining its originality. It contains irregular rhyming, lyricism, images, and literary reference. All these have been put together to give meaning to the poem. The poem also does not have a logical structure. It is written just as thoughts flow in Prufrock’s mind and consciousness. It is based on the free flow of ideas without connective passages.