Essay: Cultural Values: The Modern View of T.S

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¶ … Cultural Values: The Modern View of T.S. Eliot and Franz Kafka

Literature can often serve as an indicator of the mindset of regular people during the time period in which they were published. Through their individual works, Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis" and T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the authors make their attitude toward modern life very apparent. They are attitudes of loneliness, unwanted change, and even despair. Through the eyes of their protagonists, both Eliot and Kafka illustrate their idea of the cycle that life goes through.

From the very beginning, Eliot illustrates a vision of modern life for the reader that is less than desirable. His very description of the streets is unpleasant. His mention of having to travel "through certain half-deserted streets," and "restless nights in one-night cheap hotels/and sawdust restaurants with oyster shells" (Eliot) paints a negative picture for the reader from the very start. Toward the end of the poem, he refers again to the deserted streets and "the smoke that rises from the pipes of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows" (Eliot). He makes no mention of where it is he is having to travel to and for what purpose at that point, he is less than discrete with demonstrating his displeasure at having to go be out in society at all.

One of the most notable things about Eliot and his attitude toward modern society is the way that he envisions his encounter with the women in the poem. "In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo," he says. The women will be talking about Michelangelo and other cultured topics, and they will take a "toast and tea," another matter of finery. Eliot seems to be almost intimidated by the women in his story. He envisions them chatting with one another about sophisticated things like the Renaissance instead of their actual lives. Prufrock even repeats these lines once again, perhaps for effect, to drive home the idle and uninteresting nature of the talk the women shared with one another.

Shortly thereafter, Prufrock describes wondering whether or not he dare approach them and strive a conversation, and wonders if he would have time to sneak up the stairs. "With a bald spot in the middle of my hair -- [They will say:How his hair is growing thin!"], he imagines. Feeling self-conscious about the thinning hair at the top of his head, the narrator imagines that the women will notice this imperfection. He then begins to imagine them criticizing the size of his arms and legs, remarking at how thin they are.

"Do I dare Disturb the universe?" he asks. Disturbing the universe might be quite difficult, but in a manner that is almost playful and resigned Eliot suggests through Prufrock's voice that it would cause a disruption to the universe if he would dare speak to one of those women. While there is no evidence in the piece that suggests that the narrator is unworthy of the attention of women, it is clear that his insecurity and self-consciousness is crippling him to a point where he is unable to even consider it (Bloom).

There are other instances in which Prufrock spoke negatively of himself, showing little confidence in himself and his abilities. "I am not Prince Hamlet," he says. He calls himself "an attendant lord" and "The Fool," assuring the reader that he has very little self-confidence. It is important to note that Prufrock is not lacking confidence for complete lack of effort. As a matter of fact, he does make some attempts at showing confidence, with his tie "asserted by a simple pin" (Eliot) (Bloom).

Both Eliot and Kafka use their works to communicate a feeling of alienation and disregard for the individual man in modern society. Both men speak through their protagonists to communicate the idea that as men grow older, they are disregarded. In Kafka's case, Gregor turns into a giant cockroach and is alienated and then just plain disregarded by his family. It is never made clear whether the cockroach-identity was symbolic or imagined in the mind of Gregor, but the message Kafka sends about Gregor's life is clear. Gregor turns into a cockroach and continues to live his life from there. No explanation comes to light, and the issue is never resolved. There is no doubt… [END OF PREVIEW]

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