illustration of a woman holding a glass of wine and a man, Prufrock, standing opposite her

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T. S. Eliot
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Eliot is famous for developing a key Modernist literary technique called the “objective correlative.” The o.c. is a technique in which the description of an object correlates with description of the character’s (or author’s) attitude about the object. The person’s subjective experience controls how reality is viewed. Eliot’s poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is filled with vivid imagery about the places Prufrock goes, the weather of that day, and the city he’s in. How does this vivid imagery of these places correlate with Prufrock’s personality? Pick two objects from that section of the poem lines 1-36 of the poem.  I know that Prufrock is indecisive, thinks people are laughing at him, thinks himself a fool, and is lonely, depressed, and socially isolated, but what are two objects from his vivid imagery of London and imagery about the places he went that correlate with his personality?

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Ah yes, Eliot's famous objective correlative! In his landmark 1915 poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," everything relates to the personality, character, and point of view of Prufrock, who is a representative of Eliot's modern, urban, and deeply alienated man. Much of the imagery throughout the...

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Ah yes, Eliot's famous objective correlative! In his landmark 1915 poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," everything relates to the personality, character, and point of view of Prufrock, who is a representative of Eliot's modern, urban, and deeply alienated man. Much of the imagery throughout the poem, in typical modernist fashion, is used ironically, although there are some specific details about his appearance, such as his clothes and bald spot. While seemingly just a descriptive element, it points towards aging, sadness, and vanity. Prufrock, one of the most self-conscious figures in literature, imagines what others are saying about him. "They will say: "how his hair is growing thin!'" Another image is that of tea and coffee. These are commonplace, rudimentary events during the day, part of most people's schedule. Yet these are far from innocuous, as Eliot uses them to reference the passage of time and the banality of Prufrock's life.

Prufrock actually doesn't enter the poem until a few stanzas in, and Eliot also gives us a strong sense of the city, presumably London, where he lived and worked for most of his life. In the first stanza, he sets the scene with cheap hotels and restaurants with sawdust on the floor. These contribute to the overall feel of emptiness and despair, themes that would reach fruition in his masterpiece, The Waste Land. In stanza 3, there's an almost Dickensian description of the "yellow fog" and the "yellow smoke." Though fog and smoke can be positive images, the modifier "yellow" conjures images of decay, sickness, and age, which, again, fit neatly with the overall themes of the poem.

Although there is no room to discuss, Eliot's use of allusion (see the epigraph, the reference to Hamlet, Lazarus) is also an important element of this poem and his modernism.

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