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Sense of waste, ennui and Boredom in 'The Love Songs of J. Prufrock' and 'The Waste Land' by T.S.Eliot



In his early poems T. S. Eliot gives a horrifying picture of the modern world. In his two extraordinary poems “The Love Songs of J. Prufrock” and The Waste Land he projects a terrifying vision of our chaotic times and troubled lives. The waste land scenario he portrays throughout these poems is one that reflects the social anarchy and spiritual vacuity of modern urban life that drives the individual to the deep crises of emotional and intellectual despair. Eliot attempts to depict the total disarray and near collapse of Western civilization in the early 1920s. During the years, immediately following the monumental upheavals of World War I, European life-styles, social mores and moral values were all changed drastically. Apart from the waste and decay, the life of modern people also became very complex. Education made the modern people intellectually superior, but their life became full of ennui and boredom. 

The his poems “The Love Songs of J. Prufrock” and The Waste Land he gives us an authentic impression of the mentality of educated people in the psychological stump that took place immediately after World War I. It makes us aware of the nervous exhaustation, the mental disintegration, the exaggerated self consciousness, the boredom, the pathetic groping after the fragments of a shattered faith-all these symptoms of “the psychic disease which ravaged Europe mercilessly like an epidemic.”


The poem in which Eliot, for the first time, draws the problems of the modern people is “The Love Songs of J. Prufrock”. Here in this dramatic monologue a character is speaking in a context and analyzing his temperament and his experience of love. Prufrock, the speaker of the poem, is in love with one of the ladies and wishes to declare his love. But he is an irresolute person for whom the surliest decision is a matter of strain speculation, and distress. He wants to avoid taking any responsibility. That of taking decision is why he asks,” Do I dare disturb the universe?” because any action that changes the pattern of things will disturb the universe that is the opinion of him. He is so self-centred a person that an ordinary decision taken by him will, in his view, have far reaching consequences for the whole universe.

Prufrock is one of Eliot’s major creations. He tries to give us a view of Prufrock. We get enough information about him to imagine his situation as he proceeds through the soft October sight to the drawing soon where the sophisticated women, one of whom he loves, are taking tea and indulging in elegant conversation with music in the ground. We know something of his appearance and dress. And we are made acquainted with the agonies and intricacies of his confused meditation about the nature of things, his hopes which he knows to be vain. In spite of these, however, the situation as well as the mind of Prufrock remains shrouded is a kind of mystery.

Prufrock is a complex character. Everything about him cannot be defined is a formula. He is like Hamlet. He shows what a modern individual is and has a clash of his personality. Hesitating, wavering are always is within him. We find Prufrock is a prison, the prison of a divided self in the tortures of neurotic conflict. His long song will never be uttered outside the inferno of his own mind, and the “you” and “I” of his monologue are the impulses within him.

Prufrock has retreated into the world of despairing introspection day-dream, and he experiences mingled feelings of self-pity and self-disgust. The retreat and the feelings are impressed upon our minds through the images of the tortures streets and the fog-cat, the picture of his life as measured but with coffee spoons and the symbols of his terror of social and sexual failure. He is unable “to force the moment to its crisis”, he is not even a Hamlet who did at last muster the courage to do something, and he is only an attendant lord: Unlike Hamlet, he has no heroic quality. He can only back into trivial speculations whether he shall not a peach or part his heir behind. He is very imaginative, escapes into a fantasy world of unreal love with mermaids.

In the first half of the poem, there is no hope of success. The sense of failure does not begin until the passage beginning “And would it have been worth it, after all.” By this time, he has seen himself enter the drawing-room, take tea, fail to ask his question, and scenthe foot men “snicher” in; a superior way, and he has come away, afraid to take the positive step which would made him “great” just because it was a step which would have changed something. In the poem, he is not a hero properly. He is the anti-hero that means he is the central character but it nothing heroic in him. He is thought as physically impulsive and ugly so he has no dare to propose his beloved because he fears ally not spiritually. As he mixed with many girls but no girl is suffited to him. He is very intellectual that he only go for knowledge. In the poem, he in not talking/ addressing to his beloved but he is confessing to us.

In the poem, he was a pair of claws scutting across the floors of silent seas. The claws represent the longing for an uncomplicated existence. The claws siege the prey and carry it off without the hesitation or wavering with which Prufrock is faced. The claws, like the mermaids, are at home and free in the sea, and can settle at will. But at the some time they cannot go forward or make any progress. Profrock laments, “ I grow old-------I grow old,” but secretly he wishes only to regress to a safe place where his inner universe is no longer disturbed by any tormenting human problem.

Prufrock never reaches a decision, never penetrate, beyond “the marmalade, the tea,” to a conclusion either with the ladies in the room on with his surroundings. He accepts boredom from the fear that worse may ensue from an attempt to probe too deeply. If he had asked the question, the lady might have replied: “That is not what I meant, at all. That is not it, at all. “Such a reply shattered his illusion. Prufrock’s sense of boredom with the social round and his terror at the way thought of asking his overwhelming question. His boredom and his indecision stand out in the poem and these create an atmosphere of despair.


Prufrock is the representative of the modern people. Modern people have become sophisticated in manner and way of life, but at the same time their emotional life has become barren and chaotic. Prufrock represents the life of these modern, urbanite people.


The greatest poem of the modern literature that portrays the waste and boredom of the modern people is undoubtedly The Waste Land. Throughout the poem there are recurrent symbols of drought and dryness, decay and disintegration. The reader sees, in Eliot’s own words, "a heap of broken images" made up of dusty streets, dead trees, desert rocks, dry bones, rats scurrying in sewers, empty cisterns and exhausted wells. Eliot skillfully evokes the picture of a wasted world where universal symbols of life - such as earth, air, fire and water - prove both sustaining and destructive. 

Eliot seeks thereby to recreate in his poem a truly compelling portrait of the drab life we lead in our dreary modern cities. People work and live their whole lives in a mechanical, almost robot-like fashion today. This is emphasized all through the poem. Besides, Eliot constantly links the present with the past, showing as how much more futile our existence is today. With the modern world being almost rendered a total waste - by human greed and materialism, by industrial pollution and ecological over exploitation.

The speaker is very much pessimistic about the existence of the modern people and their way of living. The modern people lead a bored life. Their pleasure is not spontaneous pleasure. London has become enveloped in brown fogs and the crowds moving over London Bridge are the spiritual waste dead citizens of the waste land going their daily round of dull routine. In this unreal city sex has become a matter of intrigue and has become a mere source of pleasure and lost its spiritual significance. The sexual life has lost spirituality and it has become a work without any real pleasure of both body and mind.

The picture of the vulgar sexual life and low morality both of the higher as well as the lower classes are drown in the Game of the Chess part.

The second seection of the poem ’ A Game of Chess’ portrays two women-a Rich Lady at her boudoir and the cockney women in the East-side pub. The two women of this section of the poem represent the two sides of modern sexuality: while one side of this sexuality is a dry, barren interchange inseparable from neurosis and self-destruction, the other side of this sexuality is a rampant fecundity associated with a lack of culture and rapid aging.

Thus, the poems The Love Songs of J. Prufrock and The Waste Land’ combinely evoke a ssense of waste, ennui and boredom inherent in the life of the modern people.

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