Dead Poets Society

tonight's featured read: The Love song of J.Alfred Prufrock

Secret Poetry Night

Sunday, May 5th, 7pm

St. Mary's Catholic Secondary School, Chicago IL

Tonight we will be reading The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot. It is the inner monologue of an indecisive man living in the early 1920s. After reading, we will discuss his disgust for women.

Pre-reading: The Author

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) is one of the most notable poets of all time. He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and educated at Harvard, Sorbonne,and Merton College, Oxford. He settled in England, and went through a series of odd jobs before becoming literary editor for the publishing house Faber & Faber. He founded and edited the prestigious literary magazine Criterion during it's 17 year run.


20th century poetry was completely altered with Eliot's influence. He chose to reflect the difficulty in modern society and language in his poetry, creating beautiful, albeit difficult, work. In no way has this complexity impacted his influence on literature - he remains one of the most influential poets of all time.




The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Prufrock's Issues with women


"In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo."


Prufrock thinks women are flighty- they are constantly flitting from one room to the other.
He also associates them with art, whether that be that they enjoy art, or they pretend to enjoy it for the sake of appearances.

"And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

And should I then presume?

And how should I begin?"


In this stanza, much of Prufrock's opinion of women is expressed.
First, he describes them solely in terms of physical appearance - and in that, only in fragments (arm). From far away, they are perfect, but up close he can see their flaws.

This helps explain why Prufrock does nothing - he prefers to gaze at perfection from far away rather than interact with imperfection up close.


He also says that he has "known them all". We know that this is untrue, because Prufrock has already repeatedly mentioned his inability to act. It is more likely that he considers women to be all the same - if he has met one, he has met them all.


Based on his description of women, Prufrock appears to think that they are insignificant - they are not worthy of a complete description. (For contrast, he spent an entire stanza dedicated to describing fog that reminded him of a cat.)
However, he still dedicates the majority of this poem to talking about them. Moreover, he specifically states that the simple scent of their perfume is enough to completely distract him.


"If one, settling a pillow by her head,

Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;

That is not it, at all.”


Prufrock feels he doesn't understand women.

Again, this contributes to his inaction.

"I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.


I do not think that they will sing to me."


This section of the poem can be seen as an allusion to the insidious nature Prufrock thinks women embody.

Mermaids in this time frame were seen as mythical creatures who drew sailors in, only to lure them to their death.


He also doesn't think that the mermaids would sing to him, perhaps because women don't notice him at all. This probably contributes to his disdain, because he builds up a resentment towards all the women who ignore or intimidate him.

Sound Familiar?

Our society is dedicated to a thorough reading and analysis of the highest quality. In the past few weeks, we have studied two other works that also emulate a less than favourable impression of women.

Hamlet

The correlation between Hamlet and Prufrock is clear - they are both indecisive men who spend more time thinking about their actions than they do performing them.

Ironically, Prufrock seems to idolize Hamlet. He doesn't see their similar flaws, instead comparing himself to "an attendant lord."


In context of this analysis however, it is their similar reactions to the women around them that is noteworthy.

Both Hamlet and Prufrock stereotype women: they believe that all women are utterly indistinguishable from one another. The flaws of one woman are the flaws of all women, in their eyes.

the yellow wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper takes these sentiments a step further - it focuses on the general idea that women are less powerful than men.

The story is an excellent piece of work. It manages to effectively capture a time period where woman were expected to stay at home as housewives as their husbands went out to work.


Women in this time period were regarded as emotional, while their husbands were grounded in the world of logic. Like Prufrock with the women he discusses, John is unable to understand his wife's "condition". It was believed that women were more delicate than men, and given to nervous tendencies.