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Historical Context in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Eliot wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” from 1910 to 1913. The early decades of the 19th century were a time of enormous social, cultural, and economic change in the United States. With the rapid onset of industrialization, U.S. citizens were moving into cities at unprecedented rates. The urban working class adopted new lifestyles, values, and beliefs that often abandoned traditional morality outlined by dominant religious institutions. Social movements such as women’s suffrage and worker’s rights came to the fore. This period is referred to as “modernity” and Eliot’s poetry reflects the anxieties of the age: spiritual confusion, personal isolation, lack of shared cultural values, lack of purpose and meaning, an abundance of leisure time.

Historical Context Examples in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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"the Fool..."   (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

The Fool here refers to the character as well as to the tarot card with that character on it. Eliot's fascination with tarot is displayed both here and in his masterpiece "The Waste Land" and is an attempt to access archetypal iconography with psychological underpinnings. In tarot, the Fool is a card with unlimited potential, but great naivete, and is prone to squandering his opportunities, much as Prufrock squanders his chances at real human connection.

"Talking of Michelangelo..."   (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

Michelangelo was a famous Renaissance painter and sculptor whose most famous works include a statue of the Biblical hero David and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That these women are discussing Michelangelo suggests that the speaker has left the red-light district.

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