The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock Essay

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Essay 2 (Choice 1): A Critical Analysis of Modernism and T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” takes the form of a dramatic monologue, in which the narrator, using a persona which is obviously not that of the actual author, opens up his heart and mind to the reader. Prufrock is a uniquely modernist monologue because rather than choosing someone who is typically heroic, Eliot uses a protagonist who is trapped in a dull and uneventful life. Prufrock is afraid to show his passion to an unnamed woman. He is alienated from his society, which he describes as dull and pretentious, but cannot rise above it. Prufrock senses that there is a better way of life, full of love and higher aspirations for himself, but cannot attain his dreams.

The fact that Prufrock is a very ordinary man is underlined by his self-description, that he is one who has “measured out my life with coffee spoons” (51). This suggests someone who has cautiously approached life’s major challenges, rather than bitten deeply into the core or marrow of human existence. At the end of the poem, he describes himself as Polonius, a comic figure from Hamlet, “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be” (112). What is uniquely Modernist about this is that rather than being interested in the Prince Hamlets of the world, Eliot suggests that modern man is actually the minor figures of great tragedy, and human existence is such that lives like Polonius and Prufrock are more common than the great, tragic heroes of Shakespeare. His comments about himself are very caustic, rather than full of a desire to seek glory, again suggesting his belief that there are few opportunities for heroism in modern life. He says he is an, “…attendant lord, one that will do/ To swell a progress, start a scene or two,/ Deferential, glad to be of use,” (110-113). Rather than seeking some greater truth about existence, Prufrock merely follows the herd. This was one of the great fears of the Modernist age, that life in urban locations and the creation of mass culture had generated, in effect, a world of conformity.

The poem is also narrated in an interior monologue and what goes on in Prufrock’s mind is more important than what goes on outside of his mind. In terms of the actual action of the poem, Prufrock and the woman he loves simply go on a visit, then leave. But Prufrock addresses the poem to “you,” as if he is trying to declare his love to the woman in his mind before he says it aloud. Unfortunately, he is not courageous enough to actually broach the topic to her in the real world,…

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Eliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Bartleby. Web. 4 Mar 2018.

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