Describe "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" as a dramatic monologue or interior monologue.

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amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The epigraph at the beginning of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is from Dante's Inferno. In this passage, Guido da Montefeltro confesses without shame because he thinks no one will hear his confession (he believes Dante will never return to earth and tell anyone about it). Likewise, Prufrock confesses his faults and fears without reservation because it is an interior monologue; no one will hear it but himself. Even though he begins the poem with "Let us go then, you and I," the speaker is alone. He is soliloquizing much the way Hamlet does (whom he compares to himself later in the poem.) Just as Hamlet questioned "to be or not to be," Prufrock is questioning "to ask or not to ask" this woman to be with him or marry him. 

Prufrock rationalizes his procrastination, saying "there will be time" and "time yet for a hundred indecisions" (30). 

Prufrock notes he is no Hamlet; he considers himself more like an attendant lord, a supporting character. This shows Prufrock has very low self-esteem and this is why he continues to hesitate about asking this woman out. One of the more significant topics in Hamletis the debate about why Hamlet hesitated and procrastinated carrying out the act of killing Claudius. Hamlet was consumed with self-awareness and philosophical tangents. So, although he says he is no Hamlet, Prufrock is similarly indecisive but his hesitation is born more out of low self-worth. He even invokes prophets such as John the Baptist, as if he would need one or would need to be a prophet in order to make a decision. 

By the end of the poem, he contemplates being old and walking the beach. He has "heard the mermaids singing, each to each" (124). But he does not think they will sing to him. He is still thinking whether or not his potential question will even be responded to, whether she will "sing" to him. He is so terrified of acting that, in the last line, he compares a human response (perhaps the woman's reply) to drowning. 

There are clues throughout the poem that indicate this is entirely an interior monologue. First there is procrastination, "there will be time." Then he asks "Do I dare?" followed by "would it have been worth it?" Since the entire poem is interior, we can only guess if he eventually asks her. When he says, "I do not think they will sing to me," one could interpret that he's given up or that he intends to ask after all, just with no expectation of a response or of success. 


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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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