The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Topics: T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Modernism Pages: 6 (1519 words) Published: May 14, 2014
Question: Part A: Analyze the social and historical context of a particular poem Poem: T. S. Eliot, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The context of any given text whether poetry, novels or a movie is always integral to its understanding. Social and historical context of not only the given text, but the writer’s context and reader’s context play an important role in the interpretation and understanding of the major ideas, issues, values and beliefs within the text. T.S (Thomas Stearns) Eliot was one of the twentieth century’s major poets and still remains relevant today. For many, Eliot and his works synonymous with Modernism; his “use of myth to undergird and order atomized modern experience; its collage-like juxtaposition of different voices, traditions, and discourses; and its focus on form as the carrier of meaning” (Domestico, A & Lewis, P, 2010, p. 1).The poem ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’ written by T.S Elliot is an example of a poem where the importance of social and historical context is apparent. The poem was one of Elliot’s early work, published in 1915 and is regarded as the beginning of Elliot’s career as an influential poet. It follows the internal monologue of ‘Prufrock’, who appears to be the epitome of an “ideal man”. His character in the poem is assumedly middle-aged, intelligent yet indecisive; his worries lie in what others think of him and he is rather superficial in his concerns. The themes explored in this text explain why it is considered as one of the seminal works in precipitating the shift from Romanticism to Modernism. In order to analyze the influence of historical and social context we must look into the relationship between the text’s contexts, the literal analysis of the poem and lastly the themes and issues presented in relation to context. As aforementioned, one must analyze the writer and the reader’s context in order to further one’s understanding of a text. Eliot wrote and published this poem in England during the time of World War 1, an event which influenced his work to a great extent. One of the main social changes which stemmed from WW1 was the shift in gender roles an aspect which is made apparent throughout the poem. As Word War 1 ended, this in turn challenged the cultural notions of masculinity at that time; an entire generation of young men were killed in this war and the gender roles between men and women began to vary. Women had to start taking on the traditional male roles in order to compensate for the lack of ‘manpower’, this gave women the opportunity to pursue occupations and interests that were previously viewed as social taboo (Saleem, M, 2012, p. 372). Towards the start of the Modernist era women were seen drinking and smoking in public and ‘earnt’ the right to vote. This change is apparent through the theme of the ‘tortured psyche’ and through the hesitation and apprehension of Prufrock. This changing nature of gender roles is also representative of the very repressed Victorian era; which is possibly why the poem wasn’t initially received in good taste (Blythe, H & Sweet, C, 2004, p. 109). As demonstrated it is quite clear how the social and political changes occurring in that time manifested itself into Eliot’s poem and therefore his own ideals at that time. The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock was considered shocking and offensive at the time of its production. However, retrospective analysis reveals the text was somewhat foreshadowing the cultural shift from the 19th century Romanticism era to the Modernist era which followed. Factors which shaped the Modernist period include the events of WW1 and the rapid industrial growth of cities that followed. Ezra Pound, an important poet in shaping the Modernist shift was responsible for assisting T.S Eliot in publishing ‘Prufrock’ and another influential poem ‘The Wasteland’. Romanticism was embodied most prominently in the visual arts, music and literature (Shirey, R, 2007, p. 109). It developed in the late18th...

References: Blythe, H & Sweet, C. (2004). Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The Explicator, 62(2), 110. Taylor & Francis Inc. USA: DC
Domestico, A & Lewis, P. (2010) T.S Eliot. Retrieved from: http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/T.S._Eliot
Dunn, I. (1963). Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Explicator, 22(1), 178. doi: 0014-4940-1290286285
Saleem, M. (2012). An analysis of deviations of register in T.S Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Language in India, (12), 379. doi: 19302940
Shirey, R. (2007). English Romanticism and Modernism. Ann Arbour, United States. Retrieved fromhttp://0search.proquest.com.prospero.murdoch.edu.au/docview/304799847?accountid=12629
Strand, M & Boland, E. (2000). The making of a poem: a Norton anthology of poetic forms. New York; London: Norton
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