Eliot focuses on the conflict between individual identity and community in the first stanza of his work by establishing that the subjects of his poem are engaged in wandering.
However, it appears that there is not a physical journey going on in the lines “To lead you to an overwhelming question… | Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ | Let us go and make our visit.” (Eliot, 368) Through these line, Eliot expresses that internal journey, rather than longitudinal change is necessary to tell the story of individual identity. The closing lines of stanza one, “In the room the women come and go | Talking of Michelangelo,” (Eliot, 386) establish the conflict motivating the events of the poem - stagnancy in locations of internal conflict, which is similar in concept to the stagnancy of Ezra Pound’s critique of modern travel found in his “In a Station of the Metro”. Eliot's central claim ,though, is a question of existential meaning, producing the speaker's discontent and motivating change.
Eliot addresses the transient qualities of life in order to begin clarifying the nature of the struggle to claim an individual experience as a person residing within the larger system of community, largely supporting the idea behind modernist poetry as a critique on modern society. Eliot, in this poem is critiquing living in an urban environment, specifically beca...
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I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” (Eliot, 371)
And this “wandering” that results in such observations to lead the speaker to finally realize that the importance of life is not necessarily figuring out where one stands in the murkiness of social life, but to enjoy life and live life as you want, without regard to what others think of you.
Eliot effectively evaluates the nature of human psychology and perception through tracing the narrative of developing individual identity in relation to community norms. The acceptance of aging, or of failing, present in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" tells the story of the speaker's struggle to derive life’s meaning through recounting events of life's pervasive realities in an effort to stage the traditionally modernist conflict of an individual’s identity in relation to their relationship to community.
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