Disillusionment and Rebellion in Modernism

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“The importance of Modernism was in its ability to unite the masses by illuminating common feelings of disillusionment and rebellion through artistic forms.” Argue with reference to two poems of T.S Eliot and one additional text of you choosing.

Rebellion and Disillusionment were fundamental feelings expressed by Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They came about as a result of a myriad of factors including; industrialisation, urbanisation, technological advances, militaristic tension and eventually World War I. The importance of the Modernist movement, which occurred at that time, was its successful unity of society through its illumination of the feelings of disillusionment and rebellion. This illumination and unification is shown in a number of texts composed at the time, including; Preludes, The Waste Land and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S Eliot.

T.S. Eliot's Preludes portrays a futile existence in a desolate world, and a disillusioned protagonist, who sees the world for what it is. It was written between the years of 1910 and 1911 and can be viewed as a reflection of British society at the time, as society began to realise the sordid and solitary existence they are living. Through its use of imagery, metaphor, rhyme, and rhythm it reveals a life stuck in the boring and repetitive ritual of waking, eating, working, and sleeping. It deals with the characteristic Modernist themes of squalor, absurdity, monotony and disillusionment.

Perhaps the most important theme of Preludes is its portrayal of disillusionment, a reflection of the feelings of society at the time. The line “one thinks of all the hands that are raising dingy shades in a thousand furnished rooms” gives an image of a thousand, possibly more, people raising “dingy” shades in very cheap, sparsely furnished rooms. The effect of the word “dingy” is to convey the sense of disillusionment prevalent at the time. The suggestion that “all hands are raising” implies that the feeling is widespread – of the masses – and not just the feelings of an individual.

This disillusionment is further displayed in the Poem through the protagonists acknowledgement that the idea of something more beautiful that the sordid life he witnesses every day is naive, almost ridiculous, “I am moved by fancies…of some infinitely gently, infinitely suffering thing”. The use of the word ‘fancies’ with its connotations of fantastical and whimsical convey how foolish Eliot feels for having such absurd romantic notions, and as an extension to this, how foolish society felt before their disillusionment.

Rebellion is also shown in Preludes through Eliot’s rejection of traditional social conventions of poetry in 19th century England and of Christian doctrine. The use of negative language in Preludes is a powerful contrast to the language used by traditional English poets of the time. Eliot focuses on the “grimy”, “burnt out” and “withered” aspects of life, whereas a romantic poet would have glossed over these harsh realities. It is easy to see Eliot’s choice as an act of rebellion against traditional romanticism of the time, a feeling that would have been largely supported by society.

In Preludes, Eliot focuses on the negative aspects of life. This focus in a sense of rebellion against romantic ideals and illuminates the disillusionment experienced by the masses. Eliot’s disillusionment brought with it feelings of foolishness at his previously held “fancies”. Although foolishness is no longer felt, the sentiment born from “Modernist Disillusionment” is still apparent today.

T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land is a portrayal of Post-War Europe in the late 1910’s early 1920’s. It comments on, almost satirically, the senselessness and futility of war and the worth of a human life. It features major themes of life and death and the paradox of the two, nature and the futility of war.

The start of The Waste Land is a parody of the Prologue to the...
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