The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Questions and Answers
by T. S. Eliot

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1. Throughout the poem, the speaker describes how he has wandered about the city, under windows and down avenues, looking at early morning and late evening anthropomorphic fogs, along beaches and other disappointing exteriors. The women in the poem seem confined to drawing rooms, coming and going, "talking of Michelangelo" (ll. 35–36). Think about the various spaces that are accessible to women and men, and then describe the effects of keeping women in such a small space for the speaker and the poem. What does Prufrock's greater physical mobility accomplish for him? 2. Twice in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the speaker leads us to the brink of an "overwhelming question" (ll. 10, 93), but never explicitly clarifies what that question might be. What do you think the question is? What evidence you can find in the poem to support your guess? 3. Much of the city that Prufrock sees and describes is rendered into fragments: "sawdust restaurants and oyster shells" (l. 7), for example, stands for an urban lifestyle without referring to the whole. How do you see this oblique pattern of referring to modernity working within the poem? What is lost in these fragmentations of reality? What is gained?

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Starting with the first part of your question, let’s take a look at how the women are portrayed, where Prufrock encounters them, and what they say to him.

In line 5 of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the speaker refers to

The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells...

He seems to be talking about brothels in the “red light district” by mentioning cheap hotels meant for one-night stays and establishments with sawdust on the floor to absorb spilled drinks. He does not actually describe any women or any encounters, but the location tells us that the women there are prostitutes, confined to the rooms where they entertain their customers. There is no conversation, because that is not what a man goes there for, nor do people pursue these women for their brains.

In the next reference to women, we are no longer in the red light district. Here, we have intelligent, cultured women who hold meaningful conversations in a...

(The entire section contains 931 words.)

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