The changing conditions of the early 20th century had a clear and profound impact on T. S Eliot as his works convey a definitive Modernist ideas and literary techniques. With the breakout of World War l, evoked a sense that the great human civilization was destroying itself. This belief was further compounded with the Second Industrial Revolution, which introduced innovative science, and revealed newly discovered advancements in the economical, political, cultural and most importantly the religious field.
With the understanding of these advancements the “modern man” led the knowledge of our undeniable insignificance in the universe and ultimately questioned his existence due to the disintegration of what was previously strong religious values and belief in God. Modernist literature is a rejection of Romanticist ideals and is a criticism of modernization itself. Eliot is able to explore the issues, which are hugely relevant to the modern experience. Specifically these include the isolation or alienation of an individual and the decay of social morality. These concerns are accentuated in Preludes (1917) and Rhapsody on a Windy Night (1917)
The decay of the constructs of society and social morality were a major Modernist concern, which is prevalent in many of Elite’s works. This issue in many ways was most likely brought upon by the aftermath and the horrors the world experienced of WWW. The massive loss of life was mostly brought upon by the advancement of technology; these new inventions were synonymous to the advancements made in the industrialization, which enabled the mass production of weaponry. Such progress resulted in the new inventions of deadly weaponry, which subjected those affected to slow and painful death.
This created the view that the previous Renaissance and Enlightenment models of reality were disintegrating indicating the decay of social morality. In Rhapsody on a Windy Night the first indication of deterioration arises in “a madman shakes a dead geranium”. The image is of what was once alive and beautiful is now lost, dead and ruined. The symbolism of the geranium, which is known as a durable flower now being dead conveys a sense of completely lost hope this concept, is compounded with the implied allusion that society is the ominous ND dark image of the “madman”.
The fact mankind while being obsessed with progression has in the process destroyed the previous notions of morality and beauty in life, hence instead produced a “dead geranium” instead a symbol of the decay of social morality. Eliot further conveys the image of the sordid modern life with the descriptive language “opens on her like a grin… ” This simile is morally ambiguous towards the occupation of the woman but is able to effectively create an atmosphere of immorality and hopelessness. The imagery of the state of the woman’s attire “. Ran and stained with sand… ” Further enhances the concept of decay and lost beauty in the urban metropolis. Thus social decay, which is commonly related to the modernist movement, has impacted Elite’s works. The alienation, loneliness and suffering which exists in modern society are the direct result of the social decay and is the aftermath of industrialization as within the acknowledge each other as individuals. The nature of Preludes is able to capture the essence of modern society and ingrain the concepts of alienation, loneliness and suffering into its lines.
Eliot is able to efficiently convey each of these themes through the deliberate disjointed and fragmented flow of the preludes, thus exemplifying the alienation that exists in the modern world. Eliot highlights the loneliness of the modern metropolis with imagery in the line “… Newspapers from vacant lots” emphasizing societies disposable and uncaring nature towards objects which no longer serve a role of importance such as old news. The personification of winter in the line “… Winter evening settles down” possesses connotations of a bleak end of day, ND perhaps an allusion towards the coldness of death after the war.
This effectively foreshadows the themes and ideas of a deteriorating society within the poem. In prelude Ill there is evidence to imply the sordidness of society “… Watched the night revealing the thousand sordid images… ” The dejected tone conveys the underlying concept of hopelessness and suffering in modern life. Eliot is able to further construct this theme with the line “you hear the sparrows in the gutters” the juxtaposition of the image of a sparrow, which is commonly associated with the sky is seen here in the gutter instead.