Desperation and Insecurity in the Modernist Period

Joyce’s prose embodies the spirit of modernist poetry in two ways: there is a sense of all-consuming desperation, and of disappointment and insecurity. The first selection, “Araby,” perfectly expresses the possessed fervor that overtook early twentieth century art, sparking the many revolutions of the period (artistic style and expression, popular literature, music, pastimes, wars, and radical social changes). The boy in “Araby” is driven to the brink of insanity by his love and obsession, and then plunged to the darkest despair when he fails to find his crush a gift from the bazaar. Although he never speaks to her, he is infatuated by her, and indeed she is all he thinks about: “Her image accompanied me even in places the most hostile to romance” (Joyce 2219). Joyce’s  character is barely even able to think or speak around her, and yet, like a stereotypical poet, he is consumed by his need for her. The poetry of the modernist period seems to come much more from the gut than the head, and whereas in previous times meter was just as important as meaning, the modernists utterly rejected that sort of box. Joyce reflects that rebellious, emotional, wilder sentiment in that his prose falls on its knees bowing down to instinct, and indeed impulse, rather than the stifling authority of reason or sense. That technique serves to express the uncontrollable emotions of what is presumably a teenage boy more honestly and accurately than with the formulaic prose of earlier styles.

The second selection, “Eveline,” actually mirrors the sentiments in both poems from Monday’s reading, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot and “In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound. Eveline wants to “[e]scape! She must escape!” but finds she is quite trapped, not really by her life, but by herself and a promise no one is asking her to keep (Joyce 2224). When she and her lover, Frank, whom we have no reason to distrust, arrive at the point of leaving, her fear grips her and she is unable to leave her lonely, unpleasant, and, from the description provided, completely unsatisfying life. She freezes, “like a helpless animal,” and is doomed to trudge through the monotony of her daily existence forever (Joyce 2225). This mirrors the work of Eliot and Pound because it demonstrates the self-consciousness felt in the time and expressed in “Prufrock”–” ‘Do I dare?’ and ‘Do I dare?'” (Eliot 2288); and the common theme of the crowd painted in “Station of the Metro”–“these faces in the crowd/Petals on a wet, black bough” (Pound). The great fear of unstoppable change gripping the world in the modernist period led to equally impressive insecurity, which is experienced by Eveline when she is incapable of following the change she both wants and needs. The all-too-common phenomenon of fading into a faceless, dead crowd, often expressed by modernist poets, occurs once more in Eveline, for in failing to do something different, to set a new precedent, she becomes just another face, another petal, another cog in the machine.

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