The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T. S. ELIOT
Questions for Discussion
1. How does the epigraph from Dante’s Inferno help Eliot comment on the modern world in“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”? What does it tell us about the setting of this poem? How is Montefeltro’s miscalculation related to the poem? Prufrock laments that the mermaids will not sing to him.
Prufrock's dilemma represents the inability to live a meaningful existence in the modern world. McCoy and Harlan wrote "For many readers in the 1920s, Prufrock seemed to epitomize the frustration and impotence of the modern individual. He seemed to represent thwarted desires and modern disillusionment." poem uses the stream of consciousness technique.
"If I but thought that my response were made
To one perhaps returning to the world,
This tongue of flame would cease to flicker.
But since, up from these depths, no one has yet
Returned alive, if what I hear is true,
I answer without fear of being shamed."
The epigraph from Dante’s Inferno provides us with a glimpse of Dante’s journey through hell. In the passage provided, we observe Dante’s conversation with Montefeltro, a man who has been condemned to the eighth circle of hell, which is reserved for those who’ve committed treachery or freud. The epigraph sets the stage for a confession of the damned. Just like Montefeltro, Prufrock makes that assumption that the audience can relate to his pain.
2. We can assume that the speaker of the poem is Prufrock, a character Eliot creates through the use of dramatic monologue—a technique in which a speaker addresses a silent listener, often revealing qualities he or she might wish to keep hidden. What kind of person is Prufrock? What does he unknowingly reveal?
Hamlet, to whom Prufrock feels inferior, contemplates things like murder and the secrets of the universe. Prufrock, though equally fraught with existential malaise, is more pathetic, as his contemplative nature lacks any of the dramatic interest of Hamlet’s. The simple act of eating a peach is something that consumes his conscience in bitter inner debate. In the end, too, unlike Prufrock, Hamlet actually did something. Though it took the prospect of his own death to spur him into action, he got decisive and killed his uncle Claudius. Prufrock sees himself as a coward who will never find the courage to act no matter what.
Prufrock is a pathetic figure, not grand enough to be tragic. Prufrock reveals that he sees himself as a coward who will never find the courage to act no matter what.
3. Whom is the speaker addressing? This question is more complicated than it seems and likely has several answers. Consider all of the possibilities. What does each possible listener suggest about the development of Prufrock as a character? How does each possibility develop another level of meaning for the poem?
The “you and I” has been variously interpreted as Prufrock and a companion, Prufrock and the reader, or as Prufrock and the side of Prufrock’s psyche with which he’s engaged in an endless debate. Frederick Locke contends that Prufrock himself is suffering from multiple personalities of sorts, and that he embodies both Guido and Dante in the Inferno analogy. One is the storyteller; the other the listener who later reveals the story to the world. He posits, alternatively, that the role of Guido in the analogy is indeed filled by Prufrock, but that the role of Dante is filled by you, the reader, as in "Let us go then, you and I," (1). In that, the reader is granted the power to do as he pleases with Prufrock's love song. The first line “Let us go then, you and I,”gives us the impression that Prufrock has a companion. He is either talking to the reader or Prufrock is talking to his own psyche with which he engages in endless debate. Critics like Frederick Locke suggest that perhaps Prufrock is suffering from split personality disorder and like the passage from Inferno, embodies both Guido and...
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