“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as the Embodiment of the Modern Conscience

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as the Embodiment of the Modern Conscience

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In the early 1900’s, the artistic movement of modernism dominated many facets of aesthetic representation as writers, artists, and musicians abandoned the starched, conventional styles of the Victorian age for a less restrictive form of expression. Artisans, particularly the writers of the period, experimented within their craft by ignoring the traditional narrative and poetic forms in an attempt convey their personal disdain for the social climate of a newly industrialized culture consumed with monetary wealth and the ideals of genteel refinement that attended to its standards. This contempt for the conventional values of society became a prevailing theme of modern American literature, as writers like T.S. Eliot turned the focus of their works away from the portrayal and praise of upper and middle class society and toward their personal critique of this mode of life. Eliot's poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," embodies this popular modern theme by directing the reader's attention toward how an individual is subconsciously affected by the standards of society by focusing on the self and how social ethics can drive feelings of inadequacy and alienation.
Eliot uses a number of notably modern techniques to construct his 'love song' which is, ironically, not a lyrical praise of beauty or confession of undying devotion. Instead, the reader is invited to explore the mind of a nervous man, presumably middle-aged due to the reference the "bald spot in the middle of [his] hair" (40), who is apprehensive about attending social functions where "the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo" (13-14). This refrain, repeated in lines 35-36, represents the nature of the socialites that Prufrock encounters, individuals that use an i...


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...ing line the eloquently depicts the act of daydreaming and having a quiet fantasy abruptly disturbed by reality (131-133). It is only in his ruminations that Prufrock can escape the demands of society and the expectation of rejection.
Eliot's poem with its abstract imagery, incoherent stanza structures, and attention to the concepts of individualism and alienation is a clear example of literary modernism. His "love song" exists as a poetic commentary on his society, critical of the frivolites of the upper-class socialites and sympathetic toward the members of society who felt the intense isolation that results from, essentially, not "fitting in", and in a society dominated by wealthy tycoons and modern industry, Eliot used his skill to challenge the ideals of the ruling class and to draw attention to the most simplistic, yet modern, concept of all: the individual.

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