Perhaps the most noted and respected poem of T.S. Eliot's industrious career, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock exemplifies modernism in English Literature. Eliot composed Prufrock while attending Harvard, and it later it became his first published work of poetry, almost instantly capturing the attention of literary critics everywhere. For this reason, Prufrock has been a subject of study since its publication in 1915, prodding readers to ask fundamental questions: Is it all worth it? And who are we?
Common to modernism is the adoption of disruption: Disruption of continuity, disruption of social mores, and disruption of Victorian convention. In this way, Prufrock epitomizes modernism through its use of complex imagery and multifaceted insinuation; it is the story of a man conflicted in the same ways early 20th-century western culture was conflicted.
The introspective slant present in this modernist piece of literature and the historical backdrop before which it was written make Prufrock a pivotal social statement, as well as a snap-shot of the changes taking place in western culture at the turn of the 20th century. Stanly Sultan (1985) called Prufrock a "cultural artifact" because it reflects the concerns of a people caught in the turmoil of cultural revolution. Genteel society had come into question, and the opulence associated with privilege had experienced great defeats. Europe commenced toward socialism, and the United States had begun its journey as world power.
The world was asking itself the same questions that Prufrock asked: Is it all worth it? Who are we? Eliot offered the world an answer to these difficult questions through Prufrock. No! It is not worth it. We are conflicted, contradictory people. We have no heroes. We have no greatness. And those of us who are good and pious are silenced by exclusion. "I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas"-this is ultimately what Prufrock wishes; maybe that he was never born.
A fantastic poem. A fantastic writer.