How is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” modern?

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How is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” modern?

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is modern in that it explores modernist themes like mortality, alienation, and urbanization. Prufrock is a passive observer in a dirty city full of “yellow smoke” and “soot.” He is alienated from the rest of society around him. He desires beautiful women but knows they will “not sing for him.” He is self-conscious of his age but struggles to express his understanding that one day he will die.

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Modernism arose in the early 1900s as a reaction to the sociopolitical climate of the time. Artists and writers broke traditional rules of their form and explored themes like loss, alienation, mortality, and isolation. A lot of this was the result of World War I, which began a year before T. S. Eliot wrote this poem. The Great War brought out some of the worst possible behaviors in human beings, as young men lived in dirt trenches killing one another over politics. It transformed society and made many people, especially writers, reflect on how pointless brutal exercises like war really are.

Eliot deals with many modernist themes in this poem, including mortality and alienation. The war was making people come face to face with the reality of death, and the speaker, J. Alfred Prufrock, is one of these people. Prufrock is aware that he is aging and that he does not have much time left. “I grow old … I grow old…” he says; yet while he is aware of this, he struggles to express how he feels about it. He is also alienated from the world around him. He passively observes people around him, like the women who talk about Michelangelo and the mermaids who represent the women he desires. He says,

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

This line shows how Prufrock feels separate from the rest of the world and how he is lonely and isolated. Eliot also uses the image of the mermaids and the sea to depict an idyllic, beautiful world, one that sharply contrasts reality. This contrast makes the grim nature of reality stand out even more.

A lot of modernist writing and art also reflects on the urbanization and industrialization of the time period. Eliot does that in this poem with the descriptions of the city as filled with “yellow smoke” and “soot.” Unlike the romantics, modernists presented the world exactly as they saw it in front of them, even if it made things seem dark and hopeless.

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Further Reading

  • https://thcslequydoncaugiay.edu.vn/topics/love-song#
  • https://thcslequydoncaugiay.edu.vn/topics/modernism
  • https://thcslequydoncaugiay.edu.vn/topics/ts-eliot

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