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In your opinion what are the two most significant characteristics of modernist literature? Use any TWO texts from the course to substantiate and illustrate your argument. In my opinion, the two most significant characteristics of modernist literature are the pessimistic view of modern society or modern doubt, expressed through alienation and fragmentation, and the technique of stream of consciousness. In this essay I will discuss these characteristics and several important texts to illustrate my argument.
Gertrude Stein’s work is a perfect example of fragmentation, or rather in her case, literary cubism. In art, cubism means showing multiple perspectives, taking a form and breaking it down to rebuild it on canvas (analytical cubism) or taking materials to create a sort of collage (synthetic cubism). In modernist literature the same process occurs: people, feelings, locations are fragmented, only bits and pieces are described instead of the whole picture. As Picasso said: “I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.
” Stein was inspired by modernist artists such as Picasso, and wrote a series of literary portraits, including one on Picasso. She defended the representational nature of Cubism and believed that through the distortion, repetition and altering of a subject one could get a resemblance of human perception. ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is a good example of both alienation and fragmentation. Both Prufrock and his world are fragmented. He cannot really connect with the women he sees, the conversations he hears, the city he walks through, or the mermaids he hears.
The descriptions of the women he meets are not realistic, but fragmented, the poem never visualizes the woman with whom Prufrock imagines an encounter except in fragments: “Arms that are braceleted and white and bare” “Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl. ” But not only the women and his environment are described in fragments, Prufrock himself is growing old, fading in a fragmented way: “I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. / Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
” Even his voice is a fragmentation of voices past and present ( Dante, Shakespeare) that somehow harmonize. The fragmentation in the poem – the worries, the interruptions, the repetitions – all sum up his relation to the world. The images are used to convey meaning, coherence can be established from the ruins of fragments. Prufrock’s thoughts may perhaps move from one to another, but they do so in a way that mimics our thought process. He moves from one doubt to another, and his seemingly random observations are rooted in his past and his insecurities, just like ours are.
This poem’s fragmentation to some extent serves to display Prufrock’s indecisive, second-guessing, and pessimistic nature, but it more importantly reflects the fears and uncertainties we all posses. Moreover, Prufrock’s question “Do I dare//Disturb the universe? ” mirrors his insecurity and anxiety about his social standing. From the fragmented images provided by Eliot we come away with a coherent analysis of Prufrock’s character. He is the typical modern man, and his fragmented and often unsure voice is proof of it. The other issue raised by this poem is the modernist feeling of alienation.
Prufrock alienates his emotions from those around him. He is scared to show the real him for fear of being rejected or alone. He cannot connect with people on an emotional level. “There will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet”. In this particular quote Prufrock tells us how he is not himself, but someone people want him to be. Prufrock experiences feelings of exclusion and alienation from the modern world and industrialised society, which becomes clear in his low self-esteem and his inability to form relationships, and makes him worry about what people think of him.
He even claims he “should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” and feels “pinned and wriggling on the wall” when people scrutinise him. With the lack of self-confidence, his alienation grows stronger. The quote: “Do I dare? ” is repeated often throughout the poem. He asks himself time after time whether he should be himself or the person other expect him to be. Because of his alienation Prufrock feels unable to act on his desires, since he feels that people will automatically reject him.
This can be seen as a reflection of the fast-paced modern American lifestyle, with people feeling trapped and unable to connect with other people and to society. Another example of the alienation evident in modernist literature is Heart of Darkness. Modernist writers often present the world as desolate, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is no exception. As Marlow describes: My isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea, the uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the truth of things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion (p.30)