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T.S. Eliot And Modernism Essay

924 words - 4 pages

The modernist writers of the twentieth century produced works of poetry and prose which were unique to the form. The writing style of modernism was unprecedented and reflective of the socio-political events of the period. T.S Eliot was a pre-eminent figure in modernism publishing many important works of prose and poetry in his lifetime. “Eliot forged a style of aggressively fragmentary, urban poetry, full of indelicate, ‘unpoetic’ images and diction” (OXFORD BRITLIT) Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a poem that fully represents the ideas the modernists were attempting to convey. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” stands as a poem especially reflective of the modernist form because it contains elements used within modernism: elements of intertextuality are present, it reacts thematically to the writing of the Victorian period and uses form and language associated with modernism.
First, this text is strongly representative of the modernist form because of its rich use of intertextuality. Eliot draws from many other works in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to inform the reader and add to the text itself. The first instance of intertextuality is the epigram at the beginning of the poem taken from Dante’s “Inferno”. The Princeton Dante Project’s translation of lines 64 to 66 of the section cited by Eliot reads, “'But since, up from these depths, no one has yet/ returned alive, if what I hear is true,/ I answer without fear of being shamed.” These words are told to Dante’s speaker by someone he meets in hell because he is certain he will never escape the depths of hell. The fact that Eliot draws from this work to begin his poem seems to give permission to Prufrock to speak to the listener so openly. Furthermore, the allusion to being trapped in hell gives the reader perhaps a sense of Prufrock’s state of mind. In addition to the inclusion of Dante, Eliot makes a reference to a troubled Shakespearian character. The speaker describes himself not as Prince Hamlet, but as someone “[a]t times, indeed, almost ridiculous—/ Almost, at times, the Fool.” (Eliot, lines 118-119). Prufrock alludes to the prince from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to illustrate the self-loathing; he is not a prince and no better than a fool. Finally, Eliot also makes biblical references in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Prufrock says, “Though I have seen my head [though slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,/ I am no prophet…” (Eliot, lines 82-83). This is a reference to Saint John the Baptist who was decapitated by King Harrod. The character of Prufrock is set in comparison to many magnanimous characters to illustrate his self-conscious state.
Second, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is also representative of modernist writing because it contains themes that are reactionary to the themes of Eliot’s Victorian contemporaries. Victorian literature was fuelled by imperialism, the Great War, and women’s rights and was reflective of the decadent...

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