How are people isolated from society according to time and place in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Waste Land" by T. S. Eliot?
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"Prufrock" shows isolation from society according to a specific time and place: London in the early 20th century. The narrator describes having much time for trivial matters, stating
There will be time, there will be timeTo prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet...
for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions....
The narrator has time, but he is isolated and his time is broken into meaningless units made up of trivial decisions wasted on events of little value. He has time, for example, to wonder if he should turn back from the party by descending back down the stairs he is climbing.
When the narrator does arrive at his social event, he feels isolated. The "women come and go," but he doesn't have any real contact with them. He attends these parties and events where he knows people, but nothing ever really happens. He says he "has measured out his life with coffee spoons," as he once again goes through the motions of socializing without making a true human connection. He describes himself as an insect "pinned and wriggling on the wall," an image of isolation. In fact, he wishes he were in another place, a sea creature like a lobster, although even there he imagines himself alone:
I should have been a pair of ragged clawsScuttling across the floors of silent seas.
In "The Wasteland," Eliot likewise depicts a modern, post–World War I world filled with loneliness and fragmentation and contrasts it to the past. People are isolated from each other in the modern world because they are in competition with one another. You can't be in community when you are trying to outdo the people all around you. The present is isolated from the rich traditions offered by past cultures. The modern world, in contrast to what came before, such as the world of the medieval grail and devout religious belief, is “a heap of broken images” where “the dead tree gives no shelter.” Many images contrast the 20th-century world to a more desirable time: for example, the pretty streams of the Renaissance are different from the garbage-filled canals Eliot depicts.
In part two, we see a wealthy woman of the post–World War I world surrounded by luxury but quarreling with a man: amid her material splendor she lives in a broken human relationship. We also see two Cockney women gossiping in a pub about a marriage that has gone awry, another example of brokenness and isolation in the modern world. The modern world has gone wrong, alienating people from each other and from history.