TS Eliot wrote ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ in 1915. During this time, many theoretical texts were published about innovative subjects: psychology and science. These influences changed people’s perspectives and societal norms. This was reflected in literary creations; this period was called Modernity. The content of ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ has a primary focus in the poetic voice – Prufrock. He is an intelligent man, smartly dressed but concentrates on his imperfections, for example in stanza six ‘With a bald spot in the middle of my hair – (they will say: “How is hair is growing thin!”). This indicates he is questioning his own self-worth and this reinforces his social anxiety. Further support arises from the repeated line ‘In the room the women come and go, Talking of Michelangelo’. Prufrock is comparing himself to the epitome of a perfect male – the sculptor Michelangelo; as the women in the coffee shop are always discussing him. Prufrock is therefore consumed with negative thoughts, that he cannot communicate with women; he is self-doubting. An error in judgement could destroy the small amount of self-esteem he has left. This is also supported in stanza ten where the only dialogue Prufrock can consider with a woman is ‘I have gone at dusk through narrow streets, and watched the smoke that rises from the pipes’. Regrettably a thorough description of a billowing chimney, would not stand as courtship.
Arguably ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is a poem from modernism. Evidence emanates from stanza four ‘and time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions’. This is because the poetic voice – Prufock – is insecure about the future. The first World War was not accounted for in the poem, yet it was clearly written around that time; confirming a period of uncertainty. Therefore, it is believable that individuals at that time, became more self-reflective and self-obsessed; suggesting a new direction for poetry. In stanza three there are references to the Industrial Revolution for example, ‘The yellow fog that rubs it back upon the window-panes, the yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes’. It can be suggested that the yellow fog and smoke is the pollution emerging from the busy factories. These lines add more supporting evidence to cultural changes.
A theme that resonates through the poem is time. In stanza fourteen, Prufrock is considering how the gender roles have adjusted due to the change of societal norms. For example, ‘After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor’. This means that the effects of the War and the Industrial Revolution have collectively impacted on society; women can now dress differently and where shorter skirts. Furthermore, due to these changes Prufrock contemplates whether he should change, to fit in with the new societal norms. For example, in stanza eighteen he says ‘shall I part my hair behind?……I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach’. Conveniently Prufrock has presented the reader with a moral dilemma and then suggested a solution towards the end.
There is no clear structure to ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. The stanza lengths are varied; the third stanza has eight lines and the forth stanza has twelve lines. This suggests that the erratic structure of the poem reflects Prufrock’s internal struggle, regarding the change of societal norms. This irregularity also reflects modernism. This is because the arrangement has been deliberately configured to break away from the norm. Therefore, echoing Prufrock’s circumstances. However, T.S Elliot was methodical in the way he constructed this poem, as he inserted random rhyming couplets. For example, in stanza one, ‘oh, do not ask, “what is it?” Let us go and make our visit.’ The rhyming couplet in these lines seem more melodic (a little childish compared to the rest of the poem) which could be T.S Elliot’s way of mocking Prufrock. Finally, critics suggest that ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ should not have the title of being a song, as it’s a dramatic monologue. Paul Morrison states that the reasons for this are because ‘the eponymous heroes resist, albeit in different ways, their generic dispensations.’ (Morrison, 1996, pg. 69) This basically means that the hero – Prufrock – is denying himself the pleasures in life, so it’s ironic it is called a love song. Clearly the ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ was written during the modernity period. Societal changes meant breaking away from the norm. This lead to the movements such as: abstraction, expressionism and impressionism. Without these transformations, we would not have evolved into post-modernity.
Morrison, Paul. The Poetics of Fascism: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Paul de Man. Cary, US: Oxford University Press, 1996. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 26 October 2016.