Modernism Defined in T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and James Joyce's The Dead

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Modernism is by no means easy to define. In fact, no one is exactly sure if the movement has even ended yet. But that’s befitting of the period, as well as the pieces of literature that serve to define Modernism. Two pieces, T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and James Joyce’s “The Dead”, are epitomes of this modernism. In both, the main characters are paralyzed by an inability to communicate, even while speaking. Whether through Prufrock’s musings concerning love life, or Gabriel’s inability to evoke certain feelings out of his wife, both men experience this effeminization of the intellect and communication. But where does this communicative castration begin? Most likely, in the bustling metropolises and dehumanizing…show more content…
Therefore, the identity-less J. Alfred Prufrock and Gabriel Conroy, through various literary techniques, are shown to be in a perpetual decadence, as are their surroundings. In this vein, I will exemplify in T.S. Eliot’s “J. Alfred Prufrock” and James Joyce’s “The Dead” how, firstly, the main character’s stories are similar in metaphorical movements represented by their physical environments, secondly, how these characters differ from antithetic Romantic characters, and lastly, how both men’s relationships are affected by their decadence of identity. In both pieces, we see a downward movement in the narratives that are either represented by, or happen in, the physical world. In Eliot’s poem, the storyline begins “spread out against the sky”, followed by a yellow mist that “slides along the street” (ll. 2, 24). Soon after, the narrator says he should be “scuttling across the floors of the sea” and by the end of the poem he has done just that, saying “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea” (ll. 74, 130). The movement from the sky to the bottom of the sea is crucial to the poem. One might interpret it as a decent into a hell of sorts, psychological or otherwise. Regardless of interpretation, we can feel the narrators increased torment and agony at falling into this chasm of nonidentity. There is also a

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