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Eliot's Inferiority Exposed in Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Sweeney Among the
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" tells the story of a single
character, a timid, middle-aged man. Prufrock is talking or thinking to
himself. The epigraph, a dramatic speech taken from Dante's "Inferno,"
provides a key to Prufrock's nature. Like Dante's character Prufrock is in
"hell," in this case a hell of his own feelings.
He is both the "you and I" of line one, pacing the city's grimy
streets on his lonely walk. He observes the foggy evening settling down on
him. Growing more and more hesitant he postpones the moment of his
decision by telling himself "And indeed there will be time."
Prufrock is aware of his monotonous routines and is frustrated, "I
have measured out my life with coffee spoons":. He contemplates the
aimless pattern of his divided and solitary self. He is a lover, yet he is
unable to declare his love. Should a middle-aged man even think of making
a proposal of love? "Do I dare/Disturb the universe?" he asks.
Prufrock knows the women in the saloons "known them all" and he
presumes how they classify him and he feels he deserves the classification,
because he has put on a face other than his own. "To prepare a face to meet
the faces that you meet." He has always done what he was socially supposed
to do, instead of yielding to his own natural feelings. He wrestles with
his desires to change his world and with his fear of their rejection. He
imagines how foolish he would feel if he were to make his proposal only to
discover that the woman had never thought of him as a possible lover; he
imagines her brisk, cruel response; "That is not what I meant, at all."
He imagines that she will want his head on a platter and they did
with the prophet John the Baptist. He also fears the ridicule and
snickers of other men when she rejects him.
Prufrock imagines "And would it have been worth it, after all," and
if she did not reject him it would bring him back to life and he could say
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"I am Lazarus, come from the dead."
Prufrock decides that he lacks the will to make his declaration. "I
am not Prince Hamlet," he says; he will not, like Shakespeare's character,
attempt to shake off his doubts and "force the moment to crisis." He feels
more like an aging Fool. He is able only to dream of romance. He is
depressed "I grow old" and will have to "wear the bottoms of my trousers
rolled" into cuffs.
He will "walk upon the beach," though he probably will not venture
into the water. He has had a romantic vision of mermaids singing an
enchanting song, but assumes that they will not sing to him. Prufrock is
paralyzed, unable to act upon his impulses and desires. He will continue
to live in "the chambers of the sea," his world of romantic daydreams,
until he is awakened by the "human voices" of real life in which he
The "love song" of Mr. Prufrock displays several levels of irony,
the most important of which grows out of the vain, weak man's insights into
his sterile life and his lack of will to change that life. The poem brings
out images of enervation and paralysis, such as the evening described as
"etherized," immobile. No one will ever hear his love song, except himself.
"Sweeney Among the Nightingales" tells a story of a man motivated
by lust and hunger. Eliot gives us an insight into Sweeney's true nature
by giving him the first name of "Apeneck." Sweeney is more like a
primitive man who has no morals for when he dies he "guards the horned
gate," the gates of hell.
Eliot is comparing the death of a king, Agamemnon, to the death of
a bum, Sweeney.
Agamemnon is the leader of the Greeks besieging Troy. Upon
returning home he was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra. Sweeney is
murdered by Rachel nee Rabinovitch, who I believe was engaged to Sweeney, a
marriage that was arranged by her family.
Rachel, "She and the lady in the cape/ Are suspect, thought to be
in league"; , plotted or payed the lady in the Spanish cape to help her.
The lady in the cape meets Sweeney at a tavern and undertakes to
get him drunk in order to deceive him. His eyes "Are veiled, and hushed
the shrunken seas," and he begins to trust the lady in the cape. "The
person in the Spanish cape/Tries to sit on Sweeney's knees," she then tries
to seduce Sweeney and is successful. "The silent man in mocha brown"
watches the seduction and "gapes."
"The silent vertebrate in brown" is in reality Rachel in disguise.
Surely, Sweeney would not fall to the charms of the lady in the cape if he
knew Rachel was watching. Rachel realizes what her life would be like as
Sweeney's wife and is appalled. She then poison's the fruit that the
waiter has brought in.
The poison is starting to work for Sweeney becomes sleepy.
"Therefore the man with heavy eyes/ Declines the gambit, shows fatigue."
He decides not to gamble or play any games. "Leaves the room and
reappears/Outside the window, leaning in" Sweeney leans in the window and
dies. "Circumscribe a golden grin," Sweeney dies with a grin of his face
that reveal a mouth full of gold capped teeth.
Eliot becomes philosophical for the nightingales continue to sing
for a bum and king, alike. "The nightingales are singing near/The Convent
of the Sacred Heart," the exquisite music of the nightingales sounded when
the mortal blow was struck in Ancient Greece; and they sing while Sweeney
is under the eye of the man in mocha brown.
"And let their liquid siftings fall/ To stain the stiff dishonored
shroud.", The nightingales and nature are indifferent to a man's station in
life. We are born into this world as equals and will leave it the same way
and the nightingales give no honor to anyone.
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "Sweeney Among the
Nightingales" were written by T. S. Eliot in the early 20th century. The
poems reveal that the author feels that he is inferior to women. He does
not deserve the love of a maiden, but is only suitable for a prostitute.
The lines where he refers to the prophet John the Baptist and to Lazarus
tells me that he has a deep interest in religion and Christianity.
Religion does dictate strong views of sex and marriage, whereas a man must
suppress all feelings of lust and desire, unless it is directed toward his