The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

“The Love Song of
J. Alfred Prufrock”
T.S. Eliot
McNew/English IV AP
• Characterized chiefly by a rejection of 19th
century traditions
– Example—often rejected traditional meter in
favor of free verse
• Emphasized humanism over nationalism
• Argued for cultural relativism
• Emphasized the ways in which humans were
part of and responsible to nature
McNew/English IV AP
• Argued for multiple ways of looking at the world
• Presented antiheroes, uncategorizable persons, and
anti-art movements like Dada
• Challenged the idea that God played an active role in
the world
• Argued no thing or person was born for a specific
use; instead, people found or made their own
meaning in the world
• Rebelled against industrialized nations because of
their greed and warmongering
McNew/English IV AP
• Novelists
–Introduced stream of consciousness
»Joseph Conrad
»William Faulkner
»James Joyce
»Virginia Woolf
McNew/English IV AP
• Poets
–Fragmentary Imagery
–Complex allusions
»Ezra Pound
»T.S. Eliot
McNew/English IV AP
• A passage from Dante Alighieri's Inferno (Canto 27,
lines 61-66) spoken by Guido da Montefeltro in
response to the questions of Dante, who Guido
supposes is dead, since he is in Hell. The flame in
which Guido is encased vibrates as he speaks: "If I
thought that that I was replying to someone who
would ever return to the world, this flame would
cease to flicker. But since no one ever returns from
these depths alive, if what I've heard is true, I will
answer you without fear of infamy."
McNew/English IV AP
– Connection to poem?
• Prufrock, like Guido da Montefeltro,
does not expect his thoughts to be heard
• Interior Monologue
McNew/English IV AP
Rhetorical Structure
• Question—Answer
• Contemplation—Inaction
• Invitation--Destination
McNew/English IV AP
• Prufrock invites someone (“Let us go then, you
and I,…Let us go,…Let us go and make our
visit.”) to journey with him.
– To whom is the invitation extended?
» The reader?
» Something or someone inside of Prufrock?
– What is the destination?
» Ultimately, it is nowhere.
» Prufrock contemplates interacting with
people around him (especially women) but
he never does.
McNew/English IV AP
Who is Prufrock?
• Indecisive
• Contemplative
• Reflective
• Intelligent and well-read
– Allusions to the Bible (John the Baptist),
Shakespeare (Hamlet), Marvell (“To His Coy
• Humorous
– Mocks himself frequently
McNew/English IV AP
Who is Prufrock?
• Thin
• Balding
• Insecure
• Lonely
• Fearful
• Foolish
• Older?
–Mid-life crisis?
McNew/English IV AP
Who is Prufrock?
• Self-aware
–Remember, all of the information given
about Prufrock comes from Prufrock
McNew/English IV AP
Structure of Poem
– Meter
• Not free-verse
• Meter varies
– Rhyme
• Internal and end rhyme
McNew/English IV AP
Setting and Imagery
• The simile comparing the evening to a “patient
etherized upon a table”
• “half-deserted streets”
• “The muttering retreats/ Of restless nights in one-night
cheap hotels”
• “And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:”
• “Streets that follow like a tedious argument/ Of
insidious intent”
• “yellow fog” and “yellow smoke” in later stanzas
• “dusk”
McNew/English IV AP
• Dismal and depressing setting
• Commentary on society?
McNew/English IV AP
The Actions of the Cat
– The cat rubs its back against the window
– The cat rubs its muzzle on the window pane
– The cat licks the corners of the window
– The cat allows the soot from the chimneys
to litter its back
– The cat recognizes it is an October night,
curls up and falls asleep
McNew/English IV AP
The Purpose of the Cat
–Prufrock compares himself to the cat.
–The cat stays at the window and does
not interact with other people.
»Reason for not interacting?
»“There will be time” (stanza
»Repeated many times
»Delaying action.
McNew/English IV AP
The Purpose of the Cat
Contemplates interacting with
people, but never does.
“And indeed there will be time/ To
wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I
dare?’/ Time to turn back and
descend the stair”
McNew/English IV AP
“There will be time”
• Suggests predictability of existence
– Gives a reason (or an excuse?) for why he
does not have to act now.
McNew/English IV AP
• Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”
– “Had we but world enough, and time”
» Carpe diem
» The speaker is trying to convince his
mistress not to be coy and, instead,
seize the moment
» Ironic reference considering it carries
the opposite meaning for Prufrock
» Again, we can assume Prufrock is
aware of the irony.
McNew/English IV AP
Physical Appearance
• Prufrock is aware of his physical
• Prufrock assumes what other people say
about his appearance
–These assumptions fuel his
McNew/English IV AP
More Assumptions
• Prufrock believes that all people are the same.
• Uninteresting, boring people live in an
uninteresting, boring world.
• Therefore, why should he do anything?
McNew/English IV AP
Who He Is and Who He
Should Have Been
• “Should I say, I have gone at dusk through
narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”
McNew/English IV AP
Who He Is and Who He
Should Have Been
• Prufrock is the lonely men staring out of
• Why should he have been a crab?
– A crab is insignificant
– A crab is alienated
– A crab is lonely
• Not even a full crab, rather a “pair of ragged
McNew/English IV AP
Hypothetical Speculation
• Would his interaction with other people,
especially a woman, be worth it?
• Prufrock believes the result of his
interaction/conversation would be rejection
and criticism.
• Is interaction worth rejection and criticism?
McNew/English IV AP
Hypothetical Speculation
• “To have squeezed the universe into a ball”
– Another reference to Marvell’s “To His Coy
• “Let us roll all our strength and all/ Our
sweetness up into one ball.”
– Prufrock wonders if it would be worth it to do
the same thing with a woman he is interested in.
McNew/English IV AP
Hypothetical Speculation
• Lazarus
– Brother of Martha and Mary
– Friend of Jesus
– Jesus raised him from the dead
McNew/English IV AP
Hypothetical Speculation
• Lazarus
– Leprous beggar
– Dies and is taken into heaven
– A rich man dies, goes to hell and requests
that Lazarus returns to earth to warn the
rich man’s brothers about the horror of
– His request is denied
McNew/English IV AP
Hypothetical Speculation
• To which Lazarus is Prufrock comparing
– Probably both
– Prufrock believes either Lazarus would not
be listened to.
McNew/English IV AP
• “In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo”
– Reflection of his insecurity
– Prufrock recognizes the predictability of the
conversation of women
– If the topic of their discussion is
Michelangelo, how could Prufrock possibly
interest them?
McNew/English IV AP
• Even though he has characteristics of Hamlet
(indecisiveness), Prufrock does not consider himself
to be a great man.
• Instead, Prufrock compares himself to the Fool
(Yorick) and the attendant lord (Polonius)
– “Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous”
• Prufrock mocks himself
McNew/English IV AP
Recapturing Youth
• “I grow old…I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk
upon the beach.”
– A futile attempt to appear young and “in-tune”
with the times
McNew/English IV AP
• References the sirens of the Odyssey
– Dangerous
– Prufrock does not believe the mermaids will
ever sing for him
• Suggests eternal loneliness
McNew/English IV AP
• Prufrock says he will dream of the mermaids’
songs “Till human voices wake us, and we
– Humanity breaks the romantic spell of the
– Drowning suggests loss of hope.
– Therefore, the loss of hope occurs because
of humanity.
McNew/English IV AP
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