The Adoption of Modernism in T S Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Modernism first emerged in America as a brand new type of literature in the early years of twentieth century. After the First World War and the Great Depression, Western world was looking for a kind of life different from traditional one, easier, faster, more technological, and more convenient. Fortunately, modernist movement came into sight by then and answered all these requests (VanSpanckeren 61). Being specific on America by then, as Dr.

Irving Howe, a well-known literary critic and an author suggests, modernism was a revolution went against the established traditions, public customs, and cultural orders (Barbour 28), fitting the tendency toward modern life then. One of the most outstanding American writers and poets, Thomas Stearns Eliot introduces his works with innovatory impact by utilizing seemingly illogical and abstract elements and techniques. In his poem “The Love Song of J.

Alfred Prufrock,” Eliot successfully brings in his formula of emotion expressing into multiple characteristics of modernism including dynamic style, subjective experience, and moral relativism (Barbour 28). Modernism primarily started from Europe, since people began to strongly question both of the spiritual and material perspectives of Victorian Era, which previously consisted for the past a hundred years; however, a lot of American writers accepted this legacy from the other Zhao 2 side of Atlantic Ocean whereas they reformed it and created uniquely.

As one of them, T S Eliot was originally affected by French symbolist poets, who supported literary experimentation from the aspect of life, from the nineteenth century, and yet he then ultimately rejected it (Barbour 14). According to the well-known opening of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it? ’/ Let us go and make our visit” (Perrine and Reid 106), Eliot suggests that not necessarily should modern life give answer to the questions of life poses (VanSpanckeren 64). Essentially, the way Eliot to express emotions in his works is to present a series of items, circumstances, and events (VanSpanckeren 64).

In poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Eliot finishes this attempt. “Have known the evenings, morning, afternoons/ I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” (Perrine and Reid 107), T S Eliot compares the coffee spoons to the waste of time; meanwhile, he also offers a chain of time terms to vividly explain how boring and senseless this circumstance is and enhance his idea of emotion expressing. And as a critic, this technique shown here also made him be remembered for the formulation of the “objective correlative.

” Considering objective correlative is one of the most significant devices of modernist, Eliot utilizes this to provide dramatic images which seemingly related to his subjective life for his poem. For an example, in the first stanza, “Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets/ The muttering retreats” (Perrine and Reid 106), Prufrock supposes this journey is absolutely a mental one which would not help him out of the psychological crisis. The streets here could symbolize the way toward solution, whereas it is half-deserted and thus is would turn to be a dead end. Another example of objective Zhao 3

correlative appears in two stanzas behind, “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes/ The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes/ Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening” (Perrine and Reid 106), which is the one offers an imagery of Prufrock’s disappointment with his surroundings. During American Modernism, technique is always more important than meaning itself; this principle was correct then in both art and literature (VanSpanckeren 62). Consequently, Eliot puts his majority of effort on his techniques of dramatic style, displaying in “The Love Song of J.

Alfred Prufrock. ” A dialogue is conservation between two people, while a monologue is one people talks. Dramatically, in this poem, Prufrock is talking to an imagining figure, or the one called his lover; and plus his intended audiences are fictional as well (Stauffer 291). Here in this love song, Eliot is using a great dramatic style of monologue because it is progressing throughout the entire work. At the very beginning, “Let us go then, you and I/ When the evening is spread out against the sky” (Perrine and Reid 105), Prufrock is just a weird guy who wants to have a walk.

However, as the poem goes on, we learn more about his personality, his desire of love, and his wish to be “a pair of crab claws. ” More ironically, he gives readers the impressions which are exactly the opposite ones he wants to. For instance, he wants others to know him as a decision maker, whereas back to truth he is only a lying loser. In order to accomplish this impact, T S Eliot basically utilizes free verses to create a series of strong rhythms, including the very first two lines mentioned above, and lines 13 and 14, “In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo” (Perrine and Reid 106).

Zhao 4 As well as techniques, vision (or viewpoint) also plays a major role in modernist work. It is no exaggeration to say that the way the story is told becomes not less important than the story itself. Specifically in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, T S Eliot suggests the subjective experiences of Prufrock to improve his theme. Actually, Prufrock is being subjective of everything, and thus he then has no hope of being understood by anyone else (Doraiswamy 122). As a result, he becomes completely disable to communicate, “‘That is not it at all/ That is not what I meant, at all.

’” (Perrine and Reid 109); likewise, the lady is also isolated in her own cell, and the two of theirs can never become one. Beside this detail Eliot offers for subjective vision, he also gives readers a myth which his question whether Prufrock has left his room or not. It appears he has not; however, he is exhausted in the second part, saying “Asleep… tired… or it malingers/ Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me” (Perrine and Reid 108). This is another evidence implies Prufrock’s disability of distinguishing reality and imagination.

No matter how far he goes or how tired he becomes, he is always chained in his own tiny subjective space and limited viewpoint, feeling every experience of his that are all imaginary (Doraiswamy 124). Lastly, Eliot also develops the moral perspective in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. ” Technically, Prufrock’s subjective personality is caused his deficiency of morality. Prufrock quite often compares himself to several negative aspects of this society and contrast himself to various cultural heroes (Ali 113).

“For I have known the eyes already, known them all (Perrine and Reid 107),” ironically, his education experience only makes nothing but his sense of failure. Moreover, his self- consciousness turns to one image after another: he Zhao 5 figures himself is proved, examined, and criticized, although no one else thinks in the same way; and because of this lack of morality, he put himself further away from the superior figures such as “Prince Hamlet” and “John the Baptist” (Perrine and Reid 109).

Despite the fact that originally inspired by French Symbolists, T S Eliot was able to recreate his own style and put it into his work. Nevertheless, on the other hand, his works still contain the major features of American Modernism. One of Eliot’s modernist masterpieces, “The Love Song of J. Alfred” displays various characteristics of modernism which are dynamic style, subjective experience, and moral relativism. Work Cited Bender, David L. American Modernism. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000. 289009. Print. VanSpanckeren.

Concept of American Literature. Christopher Little, 1994. Print. Perrine, Laurence and Reid, James M. 100 American Poems of the Twentieth Century. Laurence Perrine and James M. Reid, 1966. 66-12916. Print. Stauffer, Donald Barlow. A Short History of American Poetry. Donald Barlow Stauffer, 1974. 69-13347. Print. Doraiswamy, T. K. On Eliot’s Poetry. Ed. P. Lal. Writers Workshop, 1965. 811. E4205. Print. Ali, Agha Shahid. Agha Shahid Ali on T. S. Eliot. Ed. Elise Paschen and Rebekah Presson Mosby. Sourcebooks, Inc, 2007. 811509. Print