Prufrock and Modernism Modernist literature is the representation of the societal crises and disorientation which was resultant of the burgeoning industrialisation and mechanisation of society in the 20th century. This instigated an evolution of thought which challenged the preconceived notions and boundaries enforced by society and gave rise to new perceptions in relation to the world. Modernism is marked by experimentation, and in particular the manipulation of form. This is evident in T. S Eliot’s dramatic monologue, The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock, which depicts the modernist ideals of internal reflection and the fragmentation of thought, which further serves to mirror the fractured and chaotic nature of world. The modernist ideal of representing the tumultuous inner workings of the mind conveys the alienation and displacement that an individual experiences in an industrial society. Eliot creates an artistic portrait of such a society through the depiction of the superficial bourgeois social values upheld by upper middle class society in the 20th century which undermine Prufrock’s ability and make him insecure.
Prufrock’s suffocation with this society is evident in his emphatic evaluation, ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’. The symbolism of the coffee spoons implies an unsatisfying and carefully calculated life of relative insignificance and yet the query ‘so how should I presume? ’ reflects his inability to break free of these shackles. The fragmented structure of the poem and the switch between active and passive personas, coupled with the use of rhetorical question ‘so how should I presume, communicates the irresolute nature of Prufrock’s mentality and highlights his inadequacy.
Eliot also implements the modernist technique, the stream of consciousness to demonstrate the fact that Prufrock’s insecurity is the reason for his indecisiveness, ‘Time yet for a hundred decisions and for a hundred visions and revisions, before the taking of a toast and tea’. The juxtaposition between Prufrock’s neuroticism and the mundane taking of afternoon tea magnifies the need for security in an ever-changing world of full of change, which further reiterates the modernist ideal of a chaotic and fractured world.
Existential nihilism is a modernist concept which is explored in the poem, this is vividly portrayed through the synecdoche of a crab, “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the silent seas”, in which he wants to lie in oblivion rather than face the constraints of existence. The concept of existential nihilism is reflective of modernist practices as it creates a new meaning that is contrary to traditionalist opinion in that it refuses to accept an absolute reality though the allegorical nature of the crab.
The poem is also reflective Prufrock’s desire for self-realisation, a common modernist theme which is reflected in the rhetorical question “Do I dare disturb the Universe? ’. His consequent spiritual alienation is manifested physically thorough the descriptions of the urbanized city, “half-deserted streets…spread out like a patient etherised. ” The simile uses the harsh streetscapes of the newly industrialised America to emphasise the mental bleakness caused by Prufrock’s dread of isolation.
The juxtaposition of the refrain, “In the room women come and go talking of Michelangelo” with these streetscapes further highlights the spiritual damage caused by materialistic societies. This serves to highlight the influence of changing societal values on an individual’s psyche which is an integral element of modernism. Modernism is also commonly seen to have allusions to mythology and other literature. This is evident in the comparison that Prufrock creates between himself and prince Hamlet ‘No!
I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be’, this once again highlights the ambivalence of Prufrock’s personality but unlike Hamlet, Prufrock fails to come to a final decision. At the end of the poem, Prufrock’s confesses that he doesn’t think the mermaids “will sing to me”. The isolation of this line from the rest of the poem is a physical manifestation of Prufrock’s emotions, the fact that even in fantasy does Prufrock become rejected reflects his mentality and hints of emotional instability and a possible inferiority complex.
The modernist age catalysed a great reformation in psychology and the correlation between mythology and the human consciousness is reflective of the theorisation of Carl Jung, who was a prominent modernist psychologist. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock also implements recurring motif in relation to hair. Prufrock is seen to have an obsessive tendency in relation to his hair, which is a representation of male virility. Prufrock’s implied emasculation signifies that he is sexually inferior which places further emphasis on his introverted nature.
The quotation ‘They will say: “How his hair is growing thin! ’ reflects his perception on what society thinks of him and the use of objective correlative in the quotation ‘Arms that are braceleted and white and bare’, is representative of a women and the object of his fearfully hesitant preoccupations. In the quotation ‘Do I dare to eat a peach? ’ is symbolic of female genitalia, and in asking his question, Prufrock once again reiterates his sexual inadequacies.
In terms of modernist psychology, Sigmund Freud is seen to have claimed that sexual desire as the primary motivational energy of human life; this may be a reason as to Prufrock’s evident tedium and apathy towards life, as his inadequacies poison each aspect of his existence. The reformation in psychology is therefore seen to have a tangible influence on modernist ideals of the 20th century In conclusion the modernist period, and indeed its literature, is seen to have brought about a new visa of thought and ideologies which have challenged preconceived notions and boundaries to create a new and distinctive meaning. The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock is seen to have drawn inspiration from not only mythology and classical literature but prominent modernist psychology, which is reflected in the ideals portrayed in the poem. The poem is a clear indication of the influence of a changing and chaotic world on an individual and the feelings of alienation and displacement felt as a result of such. The poem is also a clear indication of the fragmented nature of the human psyche and the intricacies of the human mind. This is established through the implementation of modernist ideals and practices which shape and intensify the inner workings of Prufrock’s mentality.