How is context shown in T.S. Eliot's Preludes

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How is context displayed in the T.S. Eliot’s Preludes?

Thomas Stearns Eliot was a Modernist literary figure, part of a cultural movement which involved innovation and experimentation with art and literature as a reaction against industrialisation, war and the formality and optimism of the Victorian period. Eliot’s Preludes was written in England early in his poetic career – sometime around 1911. It encompasses many of the techniques and styles of modernist poetry by concerning the degradation of society, spirit (religion) and quality of life due to the thirst for status and urban expansion caused by the industrial revolution. Eliot’s Preludes conveys the mundane and repetitive nature of our lives in the modern, urban world.  It uses a variety of poetic techniques including imagery, sound patterning, form of the poem and the use of personae, to render these themes. 

The poem itself consists of four descriptions of urban life at different times of the day. Within this day the monotony and futility of human existence is highlighted. 

The first prelude describes the evening – ‘evening settles down.’ The Prelude depicts a rainy, windswept evening that seems to have that dreary feel of the day’s end, especially with the imagery of strewn newspapers as leftover, unwanted rubbish. The monotonous rain beating down works together with the rhymes ‘passageways – days’, ‘wraps – scraps’ ‘lots –pots’, ‘stamps – lamps’ where the repetitive ‘s’ endings adds a sense of dullness and weariness to the prelude.“Smells of steaks in passageways’ evokes unpleasant images of back alleys filled with smells from unclean apartments and rotting garbage. The alliteration provides the responder with an unpleasant hissing sound which further adds to the distasteful nature described. Furthermore through the assertion of “Burnt out ends of smoky days,” Eliot illustrates that the fire, the sense of life in these people’s world, has gone out, and is left with only the dirty smoke to remind them of the possibilities life once held. The streets are full of “scraps,” the leaves are “withered,” and their lives are “vacant,” “lonely,” and “broken.” Evidently, the imagery in the first prelude is very strong, and one gets the feeling of being in a cold, wet, dirty city at night, reflecting the lives of those who live there. Such connotations assert Eliot’s view of the modernist world, and thus illustrate his views of the associated context, that being an industrialized society of 1911.

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The second prelude progresses to describe the wakening of the modern world to a man with an apparent hangover. “The morning comes to consciousness, Of faint smells of beer.” In the prelude, Eliot presents the idea that the people of the city merely repeat their actions each day, as if their life revolves around nothing but routine, similar to a person who wakes up in the morning with a heavy head. Eliot refers to their actions as “masquerades that time resumes,” showing his opinion that everyone plays the part they are expected, to conform with society, and that such an ...

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