How does T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" exemplify Modernism?

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This poem presents the story of a man and his terrible fear of rejection, his fear of being judged by others, and his ultimate choice to live alone rather than make himself vulnerable in love (it is, after all, a "love song"). Prufrock's horrible feeling of alienation from everyone around...

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This poem presents the story of a man and his terrible fear of rejection, his fear of being judged by others, and his ultimate choice to live alone rather than make himself vulnerable in love (it is, after all, a "love song"). Prufrock's horrible feeling of alienation from everyone around him and his sense of being unable to construct a real and lasting connection with anyone help to situate this poem within the Modernist tradition. At the party to which he takes the woman for whom he cares, he says that "the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo." In other words, no one talks about anything personal or truly meaningful; they only talk about things that will make them seem intelligent or cultured. No one forges real connection; people are only concerned with appearances (another Modernist move). He imagines what the watchers are saying about him, talking about how thin his hair is getting, how thin his arms and legs are. He imagines that he is an insect, "pinned and wriggling on the wall" under their gaze and judgment. Finally, when he considers asking the lady he's brought "some overwhelming question," he cannot bring himself to do it, for fear that she will say, "'That is not what I meant at all; / That is not it, at all.'" Maybe he wants to ask her to marry him, maybe simply if she loves him as he does her. In any event, he fears rejection and is convinced he will be rejected, thinking that he is "the Fool" rather than the heroic prince. Modernists were disillusioned with the world and tended to view it and people quite cynically, much like Prufrock does. Further, they often portrayed the failure of human connection, just as this poem does.

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T S Eliot lived at the height of industrial change and invention and Modernism reflects that change. In The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock, Eliot takes Prufrock's dilemma and translates his dismay onto the page in a foggy, dirty city where there is little, if any, drive to succeed. Image is everything and the depressed Prufrock is preoccupied with his position in the world and he is representative of the "modern" man of the time, uninspired and weak. His attempts to find release in his thoughts of literature and dreams do not help him as "It is impossible to say just what I mean." 

Eliot refuses to be compartmentalized and neither wishes to create a new form of poetry or to be restricted by existing forms. He is very aware of the poet's responsibility to the reader to produce a quality piece of work and therefore, in terms of Modernist poetry, relates Prufrock's problems as they consume him, introducing a very psychological edge to this poem, allowing the reader to consider the emotional state of Prufrock, as he spits "out all the butt-ends of my days." A structure remains in place. 

The elements of modernism in this "love song" can also be found in the form and rhythm. What could otherwise be fragmented, as Prufrock's thoughts move between women's chatter, fog, insects and so on, becomes integrated. The reader feels the sway and lyricism which provides the continuity and flow and stresses the endlessness of Prufrock's existence as he is "afraid" of this modern era and has "measured out my life with coffee spoons." Eliot wants to ensure that the reader sees the "bigger picture" and that Prufrock represents far more than this personal account would otherwise suggest. 

Eliot was introduced to Ezra Pound's circle and his style portrays his dedication to poetry as an essential part of the modern man. His insistence that poetry must combine traditional elements with illusionary ones and that it must not be prescriptive, together with his use of straight-forward language so that interpretation is complex but assured, confirms his place as a modernist poet. 

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