The Inward Turn Of Modernist Literature

1703 words - 7 pages

Modernists did not have faith in the external reality put forth by social institutions, such as the government and religion, and they no longer considered these avenues as trustworthy means to discover the meaning of life. For this reason they turned within themselves to discover the answers. Modernist literature is centered on the psychological experience as opposed to the external realities of the world. The experience is moved inwards in an attempt to make modernist works more representative of reality by making the experience more personal. The modernist era of literature is closely associated with the works of T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, among others. These three authors stand out because they have made use of unique literary tactics and devices which emphasize the inward turn of modernist literature.
One of T.S. Eliot’s earliest poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, is a prime example of a text that takes a turn inwards in terms of conveying the experience it presents. The poem provides a look into the distressed mind of an archetypal modern man of the times. It does this using the speaker’s stream of consciousness presented as a dramatic monologue. Prufrock, the poem’s speaker, seeks to advance his relationship with a woman who has caught his eye. He wonders if he has “the strength to force the moment to its crisis” (Eliot, 80). Prufrock is so entrenched in self-doubt that he is uncertain whether he is capable of having a relationship with this woman. His knowledge of the world he lives in and his circumstances keep him from attempting to approach this prospective lover. He contemplates the reasons for which he believes he cannot be with her and scolds himself for even thinking that it was possible. Prufrock allows himself to fail before he even makes an attempt. Eliot presents the poem as Prufrock’s inner thought processes to demonstrate that it is not any external factor which causes Prufrock’s distress but rather the inner workings of his mind that keep him from seeking out what he desires.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a variant of the dramatic monologue. Dramatic monologues are made up of the dialogue presented by a single character. This poem differs from standard dramatic monologue because it doesn’t present Prufrock’s speech but rather a steady stream of his thoughts. The primary focus of these types of monologues is the growth and exposure of the speaker’s character and they are traditionally aimed at a specific audience. Eliot modernizes the form by removing the intended audience and transferring the experience into Prufrock’s character, isolating him. The poem seemingly begins with Prufrock addressing another person: “Let us go then, you and I”, but there is no “you”, it is simply Prufrock addressing himself (1). This highlights his loneliness making it evident that there is no one for him to relate to. In the world Prufrock describes there are no sympathetic figures for him to communicate...

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