Discussion for T.S. Eliot
Eliot is arguably the most important literary figure of the Modernist era and he is still extremely relevant in the contemporary era as well. One of the best ways to approach the poetic work of Eliot is to begin with his first poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”
While “Prufrock” can be difficult to understand, there is a simple narrative that holds the poem together. The entire poem is an internal dialogue between different aspects of Prufrock’s personality. The first line introduces the participants of the dialogue, “you and I.” “I” is Prufrock’s ego, his boring, witty, public personality; “you” represents the deep passions that lie dormant and buried within his heart.
The mental dialogue boils down to a couple questions that Prufrock debates. The first question, on the surface, is: will I tell this woman that I love her? (The woman is referred to as “the one” reclining on a pillow in lines 96 and 107.) The second, and deeper, question is: will “I” (Alfred Prufrock) actually let “you” (my deepest passions) emerge from hiding? Will “I” ever let “you” do something crazy?
1. Eliot is famous for developing a key Modernist literary technique called the “objective correlative.” The o.c. is a technique in which the description of an object correlates with description of the character’s (or author’s) attitude about the object. The person’s subjective experience controls how reality is viewed. Eliot’s poem is filled with vivid imagery about the places Prufrock goes, the weather of that day, and the city he’s in. How does this vivid imagery of these places correlate with Prufrock’s personality? Focus on Lines 1-36 for this question, and pick two objects from that section of the poem.
Focus on the description of London. London is a large, exciting cosmopolitan mega-city that always has people going about at all times. However, in the poem, it is presented very differently. The presentation isn’t really an accurate view of London, but of Prufrock’s personality.
Focus on the “yellow fog”. Fog is not usually yellow. But yellow has some symbolic connotations… sickness, fear
2. Describe the passages where Prufrock is struggling with himself. How is this self-struggle related to Modernist themes? Focus on Lines 37-86 for this question. Select two passages and relate them to two different themes. (So, for example, find a poetic passage that can connect to the 4th Modernist theme, the loss of meaning, then explain the connection you see.)
Just to review from my lecture on modernism, here are the 4 main themes:
–fragmentation as a motif: works are composed of seemingly disconnected scenes or images. This motif discards traditional assumptions of fiction where reality was supposedly reflected by a coherent, linear plotline. (Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson)
–the art of omission: parallel to fragmentation, modernist fiction/poetry omits authorial explanations and interpretations. Scenes are not connected, characters and events are not summarized. “Reality” in a modernist work is experienced as an impressionistic montage of images or events without set beginnings or resolutions. The reader must puzzle out or create any connections within the text. (Hemingway, TS Eliot, Wallace Stevens)
–perspectivism: the all-knowing, controlling narrator is overthrown. Narration is expressed in first person, by a flawed character who has limited knowledge. The narrator/voice cannot know the full meaning of reality, but can only express personal/ subjective experience of reality. (Faulkner, Hemingway, Zora Hurston)
–theme of loss: modernist works express concern for the loss of coherence and meaning of life; modernist characters experience this loss or are searching for a way to achieve/construct coherence and meaning (Glaspell, Fitzgerald, Eliot)
3. Does he ever declare his love to the woman? What does he seem to fear about doing this? Focus on Lines 87-110 for this question. Pick two passages.
4. By the end of the poem, the moment of crisis is over. Has he let his “wild side” out? What is Prufrock’s attitude about himself at this point? Images of the sea dominate the end of the poem. What do these images represent? Focus on Lines 111-130 for question four. Pick two passages.
No, he has not let the wild side out!
Look up the Greek mythology of mermaids (not the Disney Little Mermaid stuff). Eliot was an expert in Greek mythology, so he knew Greek mermaids did very specific things to sailors. Like those ancient sailors, Prufrock desires to hear the mermaids—but he also fears them.
Due on Mar. 25, 11:59 pm.
You will submit your answers as a Microsoft Word document to the Turnitin database, which is in the Assignments section of Blackboard.
Please use the Answer Sandwich method to answer each question. The 2 passages you add to your answer should be around 2-4 sentences long. Please include a page reference, for the 2 passages
Keep in mind that I may select any of these questions to be the upcoming quiz question. Also, I use these discussion questions to create the exams and the major paper assignment. So do your best on each question.