Repository logo

The "observers" attendant in the poems The love songs of J. Alfred Prufrock, Portrait of lady, Preludes and Rhapsody on a windy night from Thomas Stearns Eliot's Prufrock and other observations as quintessential figures of modernity as defined by Alain Touraine's, Critique of modernity.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This thesis posits that the "observers" attendant in Eliot's poems The Love Song of Alfred Prurock, Portrait of a Lady, Preludes and Rhapsody on a Windy Night can be considered quintessential figures of modernity. Against a backdrop of more than 200 years of thought on the concept of modernity - a notion that in recent decades has been much under siege - French sociologist Alain Touraine, in his Critique of Modernity, offers a reinterpretation of the modern. I chose to hold this text against the four poems by Eliot because Eliot himself has been described as "emphatically modem". Recalling the initial triumph of the rationalist vision of modernity, Touraine calls for modernity to be redefined as a continuous and reflexive relationship between Subject and Reason, subjectivation and rationalisation. Using this idea of the modem subject having two faces (subjectivation and rationalisation) as a model of a quintessential figure of modernity I have attempted to match the "observers" to this blueprint offered by Touraine. I hope to show that these figures, wandering the streets of the rational and increasingly industrial and alienating world of the city and sitting drinking tea in its parlours, can be seen as both casualties of "classical" modernity and as the vanguard of Touraine's "new modernity". Almost drowning in the rationalism of metropolitan existence these figures are at once sensing their absorption by this rationalism and fighting to free their intense subjectivity the very struggle that characterises Touraine's modern subject. Finally, I hope to show that combination of rationalisation and subjectivation within the modern subject, while seemingly at odds with Eliot's theories (especially regarding the "objective correlative" and "inner voice") is not as far from his practice of poetry and criticism as may be assumed at first glance. The figures he has created in these four chosen poems testify to this.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2000.


Eliot, Thomas Stearns, 1888-1965--Criticism and interpretation., Modernity in literature., Theses--English.