Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Prufrock and His Problems

James Torrens' essay "Eliot's Essays: A Bridge to the Poems" relates some interesting correlations between our previous class discussion and this weeks readings. As we talked about the Modernists' struggle with Romanticism, particularly Eliot's, Torren's essay in many ways kind of subtley insinuates more correlations. I have always found Eliot's essay "Hamlet and his problems" amusing simply because I also don't really like Hamlet! I have always been baffled as to why the play is rated so highly among Shakespeare's other plays. Hamlet annoys much in the way I would think the character of Prufrock would annoy me if he were to be a character in a play!

It does seem that Prufrock is a sort of satire on the Romantic character or even on a character similar to Hamlet. Also, as Torren's writes, "'Prufrock,' like Hamlet, can be interpreted as a 'form of emotional relief' for the author" (48). If Eliot is relieving his own "problems" through Prufrock, it is interesting the romantic nature of the character. Eliot and the others Modernists clear aversion (except of course when they're not being clear), to the Romantics plays out well within the character of Prufrock. If the speaker of the poem is Prufrock, his inability to make decisions and his fear of growing old, reiterate Torrens' interpretation of Prufrock as "the hyper-self conscious modern, [who] would love to be heroic-to be both the romantic hero and the philosophical hero raising the great questions about human aloneness before the Absolute" (48).
But, alas, he can't make up his mind!

The epigraph from Dante’s Inferno suggests further suggests Prufrock’s indecisiveness between the romantic hero or the philosophical hero. The speaker is telling his story, though only under the pretense that his story will not ultimately be told, because as he knows, stories never return from the hell he is in. Yet, he likens himself to John the Baptist (though not as a prophet), and Lazurus, raised from the dead (and can return and tell his story). This is Prufrock, (or possibly Eliot’s) “decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” Prufrock begins with a story that he wishes not to be repeated, though in a matter of minutes through the poem, he is the varying storytellers. Prufrock appears to paralyzed by his romantic tendencies, though he is telling his story through tradition, and through the story of others before himself. Prufrock may actually be able to achieve what Hamlet could not according to Eliot, the objective correlative. Shakespeare failed by making Hamlet the character too much of his own emotion and self. Eliot, ( or so he thinks) achieves through Prufrock and his “love song” the objective correlative of perhaps his own emotion. Shakespeare tried to create a separated emotion but Eliot achieved this, as Torrens’ calls it a “form of emotional relief” for the author. I can’t help but think when I read particular criticism by Eliot of another author such as Eliot or Shelley, how he fails to realize at times his own similarities. Eliot wants to hate the Romantics, yet he creates a character in Prufrock that is arguably, much like himself. Eliot seems through Prufrock the one that cannot “emerge from the pain of mere velleity” (Torrens 48).

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