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Lecture 17

English 2307E - Lecture 17.docx

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English 2307E
Krista Lysack

English 2307E Thursday March 20 Lecture 17 T.S. Eliot ‘Prufrock’ • 1-12 - The quest, the city o The British are no longer sure about faith o It is a quest with no real purpose o We can’t generate meaning from the idea that we are going somewhere o It is a scene of ‘urban grittiness’ – not idealized, but gritty, modern, and not very attractive o Prufrock has an overwhelming question that is never revealed to us o Journeys in epic poems usually revolve around a clear question, but there is no question, only a quest (with no certainty) • 23-34 – A concern for time o It doesn’t seem as if Prufrock is making any gains – he is still aimless and lost o The poem notes that time is important and it is running out o There is an impulse to make something of your life, but Prufrock can’t seize the day – there is no intensity or bravado, Prufrock can never seem to get anywhere • 35-69 – The party o Prufrock finds himself at a fancy party (we are not exactly sure where) o He wiles away his time at the party as much as he does on the streets, but he assumes a certain persona (he doesn’t produce anything of meaning) o Literary allusion: “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons”  It is bleak and meaningless, that Prufrock has measured his life by these social events and how he is supposed to act (drinking in a particular way with coffee spoons), but he hasn’t really achieved anything o It is always the same party, but a different party  The different parties collapse into one event resembling another o He seems to be very obsessed with his appearance (he is middle-aged and doesn’t look the same anymore)  He goes through the motions to prepare his face to meet the faces he will meet (a concern about appearance)  They are always acting and trying to create themselves (suggests there may not be much underneath)  He is concerned about time, but spends his time judging everyone o While these people are concerned about the image of themselves, they are judging others at the same time o Prufrock is always anxious, worried that people will expose him as a fraud  Eliot compares Prufrock to sticking pins in insects to collect them o He is still concerned with the overwhelming question and wonders if this is time to ask it  He is worried that he will be mocked  The question stands in for anything that might disturb people’s sense of propriety  If he asks the question, it could be like suggesting that their lives are meaningless o There is a moment where Prufrock reflects and says that he should have been a pair of ragged crab cloths  This connects to the beginning of the poem at the restaurant (oyster shells on the ground)  The crab’s walk is sideways, Prufrock’s always moving sideways (repeating his actions)  Crabs haven’t evolved much over millions of years (compared to Prufrock)  There are many ways we could connect this to Prufrock’s story • 75-97 – Prufrock o This is an ironic love song – it is not transformational, celebratory love o These lines are often read as a failed sex scene (an attempt to consummate love but it falls flat) o There is dialogue between two lovers (Prufrock and his lover) but there is a failure to connect o We are left with a sense of separation of people – they are all alone, no one really connects • 111-119 – ‘I am not Prince Hamlet’ o Prufrock has slight moments of insight, but he doesn’t really follow through o Prufrock is similar to Hamlet in some ways, but in others he is different Similar Different • They are both indecisive • Hamlet eventually takes action • Both make excuses and (Prufrock doesn’t do anything) procrastinate • Hamlet has some purpose • Racked by despair and doubt and meaning • Prufrock’s struggle doesn’t seem to have any importance (does it really matter if he settles down and finds a wife? He doesn’t have a future or kingdom resting on that.) • Prufrock is an anti-hero, he is not a leading man (but an extra, completely forgettable) • 120-131 – The mermaids’ song o Prufrock realizes his mortality, but while on the one hand he is thinking this profound thing (he is growing old), he is also wondering some very inconsequential things (eg. how his trousers should be rolled up, how he should part his hair…) o Nothing can compensate for the fact that life is winding down, Prufrock never got anywhere or is going anywhere… o Prufrock says that he doesn’t think the mermaids will sing for him (there is no message or insight for him) o The poem ends on a sense of drowning instead of salvation  It is a kind of purgatory, timelessness, paralysis o Al
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