Essay on The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

Essay on The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot


The poetry of the modernist movement is characterized by an emphasis on the alienation of the individual from the broader community in which he or she exists. In the works of T. S. Eliot, this alienation is expressed as a symptom of spiritual and moral decay within communities, societies, and entire civilizations. Eliot’s modernism, which was strongly influenced by his conversion to Anglo-Catholicism, is a harsh critique of the pervasive self-obsession of the modern secular world.

In any discussion of modernist poetry, it is crucial to remember that technology was advancing at a rapid pace during the beginning of the twentieth century. Mechanical inventions, from electric lights and motorcars to indoor plumbing, had brought the standard of living in Western cultures to unprecedented heights. At the same time, however, a generation had witnessed the cataclysmic carnage of World War I. The “war to end all wars” introduced mankind to machine guns, tanks, and poison gas. The same technology that had supplied comforts to civilian life had also killed millions in a conflict over scraps of land. Modern man entered the 1920s shell-shocked and questioning what human life was really worth, since it had been proven to be so disposable.

In a poem written at the beginning of World War I, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," T. S. Eliot expresses modern man’s sense of existential isolation, and scorns the narcissism of the age, which he sees as a principal cause of this isolation. The very title of the poem is a grotesque joke. “J. Alfred Prufrock” is an unlikely appellation for one who would sing a love song. The name connotes images of a pedant in a stuffy ...


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...e has failed to instill values in its members, so individuals have retreated within themselves. The ego has become our idol. The problem with egotism, though, is not only that it is seen as evil in traditional Christian theology, but that it is useless to a person who has an inferiority complex. Prufrock, the quintessential “modern man,” clearly has an inferiority complex because he constantly requires validation from outside himself. His egotism, therefore, is impotent, as is the value system on which it is based.


Works Cited

Cousineau, Thomas J. Lectures on T. S. Eliot. Sept., Oct. 2005. Washington College, Daly Hall, Room 106.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. 3rd ed. Ed. Jahan Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O’Clair. New York: Norton, 2003. 463-466.

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