Modernism in "the love song of J.Alfred Prufrock"

The Influence of Modernism and Postmodernism in Eliot's Poem on Prufrock

The literature of the Modernism era was built on innovation and focused readers discovering meaning in twisted writings. Postmodernism made use of technology and order to facilitate comprehension. In a poem on Prufrock, Eliot deftly integrates both ideas.

Prufrock and John the Baptist

To begin with, whatever Prufrock is fighting for, which is most likely only for himself, is nowhere like the majesty of the prophet. "Though I have seen my head (gone little bald) carried in upon a plate, / I am no prophet - and here's no great matter;" (82-83) refers to the narrative of John the Baptist, who refused to be swayed by temptations and abandon his God-given vocation. Out of the Herod’s step-daughter’s selfishness, she had John killed and enjoyed kissing his lifeless lips (Mathew 14:8). The writer shows her prowess in her ability to put Prufrock in the shoes of John the Baptist, a character of ancient Greek times. He highlights the moments when his beliefs have been questioned, for instance, he has “Known the arms already; known them all” (62). Notably, Prufrock thoughts overpower his emotions, an aspect that helps him to overcome his desires. Elliot manages to bring an old concept of prophecy and incorporated it into the poem (Scholes pg. 134). The writer’s art of using notions from a different time makes the poem extraordinary in merging biblical concepts decades later. Like John the Baptist who cleared the way for Jesus, Modernist literature also paved the way for Postmodernist writings (Osser pg. 37). Ancient approaches to writing laid a foundation for the new-age writers to build on and better their creativity. For Prufrock, the fact that he is not a prophet implies that his confusion is attributed to the fact that he is not divined to know God’s will (Eiss pg. 90). Therefore, Prufrock’s justification is evident in his choice to not view it as a problem. It is typical of people to shift blame from themselves to validate the decisions they make. Hence, Prufrock was protected from seeing his loneliness and inability as a total of his shortcomings. As Prufrock is stuck in a present time where he cannot act but only observe, he remains stuck in the illusion of his thoughts. The writer uses different imagery to show an emasculated man who would not do much about his emotions.

Prufrock's Desire for Freedom

Prufrock wishes to be free from the toxic environment where his view and actions are limited. It tortures him that "In the room, the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo" (13-14), but he cannot have the contact that he desires as opposed to mere looking. His physical mortification is further highlighted by the sense of defeatism of a cat that moves around in the evening. The image of a cat stained with soot from the chimney is not dignifying, contrary to the writer’s appreciation for cats in other writings. Prufrock’s limitations are shown in the cat’s fear to enter the house and the choice to stay outside. The writer’s choice of animal is precise as felines often relate to feminism and Prufrock’s story associates with women. Notably, the poem does not focus on the way Prufrock feels about his circumstances. Instead, it uses imagery that paints a picture of his personality. For instance, the state of the city demonstrates the depth of loneliness he is experiencing, and the etherized patient serves to show his incapacity to act. The writer’s use of imagery transitions to "the yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes," (15) in the second stanza of the poem. The smoke that the writer associated with a factory in his St. Louis home is related to the dark stain on the cat’s fur. The fragmentation in ideas is a concept that was pioneered by Modernists who felt that their literature should represent the chaos in their society, then. The outlook of confusion meets the defense of the Modernists who suggest that readers ought to look deeper into the writing to find meaning. A combination of a 20th-century great monologue and a 14th-century image fragmentation makes it easy for a reader to extract meaning from Eliot’s readings. The irregular rhythm of the poem is used to demonstrate Prufrock’s confusion and relation with time. He seems stuck with small concerns that can be ignored. For instance, his expression of “and time yet for a hundred indecisions” (32) shows a man rooted in the present. That, according to Modernists, is not healthy. Prufrock is engrossed in thinking as opposed to feeling, which makes him indecisive and imprisoned in his current state.

The Merging of Modernism and Postmodernism

Prufrock is stuck in a lonely world where his actions have been disabled by his thoughts. The writer likens him to John the Baptist, who stood firm in the face of temptations. Eliot is skillful in incorporating concepts from different times together in the poem. Imagery is used to show various personalities embodied by Prufrock as a lonely man whose ability is limited by his thoughts. The literature merges both the fragmented concept of Modernism and the drama adopted in Postmodernism.

Works cited

Oser, Lee. T.S. Eliot and American History. University of Missouri Press, 1998.

Eiss, Harry. The Joker. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns. The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock. New Canadian Library, 2016.

Scholes, Robert. Paradoxy of Modernism. Yale University Press, 2008.

Marks, Herbert, ed. The English Bible: King James Version. The Old Testament. Norton, 2012.

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