The Twentieth Century gives me real insights into human and social issues that are still current in the 21st century.
The Twentieth Century provided many influential writers who dictated the human and social issues which were present at the time, and remain relevant to the world today.
In this blog, I will delve into the universality of the human and social issues that we all face and that the generations before, and likely after, will face. While I will focus on the work of T.S. Eliot, this theme of the timelessness of Twentieth Century literature is common amongst the writers of the time.
The 1900’s presented many large-scale humanitarian and social issues, the most notable being World Wars I and II. What felt like hopeless and helpless times for many was well reflected in the writings of authors such as T.S. Eliot. Eliot’s work perfectly encapsulates the mood of society at the time through his use of fragmentation, stream of consciousness and repetitive style of writing. The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock is a prime example of writing being used to captivate the tensions present in society from the view of the author, through the employment of J. Alfred Prufrock as a character. As he ventures through the downtrodden streets, looking for love and purpose, we see the struggles of society in grasping meaning and finding hope, especially throughout the atrocities of the First World War. Although this poem was written between 1910 and 1911, it was not published until 1915, well into World War I, so it would be fair to say that it’s message resonated with a war-struck world.
Yet readers today relate to J. Alfred Prufrock. Why is this? How is it possible that a character devised over 100 years ago relates to so many people on an individual level today?
It holds truth. Eliot’s work is timeless. We, as a society, see the pain and struggle that is present in our world throughout all forms. Whether it be through poverty, greed, abuse of power, and especially through the pandemic. The pandemic, which led to a lockdown of many countries, has forced people back into their homes, sheltered away from the virus and away from their loved ones. In a time when communication between people, regardless of distance, is readily available through the touch of a button, how is it that so many found themselves isolated and alone?
You see, when Eliot brings in themes of isolation, separation, anxiety and hopelessness over 100 years ago, and society today finds themselves feeling the same way, just through different social issues, we understand that the Twentieth Century writers did not come to play. In fact, what they wrote about centres around a universal understanding of the nature of humans. At one point or another, we feel lonely and isolated. Regardless of whether or not we are surrounded with people (although this is more obviously resonated among society during Covid-19 times).
How is it that we as readers find ourselves relating to the works of authors completed a hundred years ago, even if the context of their work does not match our current situations?
What is so great about the writings from this time is that it does not focus solely on the events occurring, but on the experience. When we look at Prufrock, we see an alienated man searching for more in life. We see his views of a broken and polluted world. While the issues present at the time of Eliot’s writing may not be as prevalent today, we see and relate to the character of Prufrock.
I suppose, it isn’t the words of the author that we are reading into. It’s much deeper than that.
We look into the soul of the author. As writers, what we put on paper is reflective of what is within. And when we see authors writing about the experiences of their characters, we see our innermost selves in their words. We see more than just words. We see ourselves and our lives.