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In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," how is Prufrock the symbol of Modern Man?  

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moomlkow | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 4, 2011 at 6:22 AM via web

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In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," how is Prufrock the symbol of Modern Man?

 

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 4, 2011 at 7:55 PM (Answer #1)

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Modernism had created a very different world from what had gone before it. According to Joseph Campbell, a noted scholar of myths, Modern society has resulted in a "stagnation of inauthentic lives and living... that evokes nothing of our spiritual life, our potentialities, or even our physical courage." He argued that the conditions of the modern world had bogged people down in the everyday concerns of life and had made them observers rather than participants in life's adventures, passive characters rather than active heroes.

There is a definite sense in which Alfred Prufrock fits this description of a profoundly modern man. The poem is all about the momentous visit he intends to make and the question he intends to ask. However, crucially, he never arrives and never asks the question. Instead, he reveals that he is a man torn by indecision and concerned about his own appearance. He is an isolated man because of hsi fear of being ridiculed or misunderstood, and we recognise that these aspects of his personality will always prevent him from realising his dreams. The allusion to the sirens that ends the poem hints at a loss of hope that indicates Prufrock's own understanding of his situation:

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

The "drown" in this quote could refer to the loss of hope as Prufrock is distracted from his imaginings by human voices and "woken" into the reality that he does so much to avoid.

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