How different is the character of Tennyson's Ulysses from Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock?

Tennyson's Ulysses couldn't really be any more different from J. Alfred Prufrock. Though an old man, Ulysses still wants to take to the sea and perform more heroic deeds. He has a passion for life, which he's displayed throughout countless voyages and adventures. Prufrock is the opposite of heroic. Though a young man, he seems old before his time. The world is a scary place for him, a place from which he naturally recoils.

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J. Alfred Prufrock is a young man trapped in his own mind, so full of hesitation and doubt that he's almost paralyzed by inaction. Contrast that with the great ancient hero Ulysses, a man of action who yearns to embark on epic adventures full of danger and excitement. Life's one...

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J. Alfred Prufrock is a young man trapped in his own mind, so full of hesitation and doubt that he's almost paralyzed by inaction. Contrast that with the great ancient hero Ulysses, a man of action who yearns to embark on epic adventures full of danger and excitement. Life's one long adventure for Ulysses, who, despite his advanced years, wants nothing more than to get together a ship's crew and head on out to sea for yet another epic journey.

Prufrock's own voyages into polite London society are notably lacking in heroism. He instinctively recoils from those he meets at what are increasingly tedious social gatherings. Despite his tender years, Prufrock talks and acts like an old man who's grown tired of life. That Prufrock is old before his time in reinforced by little physical details such as the bald spot in the middle of his hair. Prufrock, it appears, is aging inside and out.

Ulysses, on the other hand, is getting old only on the outside. Inside, however, he's as youthful as ever, possessed with the same degree of wanderlust that he displayed in his younger days. If for Prufrock life is a set of tiresome obstacles, for Ulysses it's full of challenges to be conquered. And a little thing like age isn't going to prevent him from seeking new worlds to conquer.

As for Prufrock, a man so terribly afraid of women cuts quite a pathetic figure. Whereas Ulysses displays fearlessness in confronting all manner of scary monsters, Prufrock is scared stiff when in the company of those genteel old ladies who come and go, taking of Michelangelo.

There is a disembodied quality about Prufrock, as if he's a mind with legs rather than a flesh and blood human being. In his uncomfortable interactions with women, he displays a fear of the flesh that contrasts dramatically with the sinewy nature of Ulysses, a man who's deeply embodied in the world, and thus feels completely at home in it in a way that poor old Prufrock never will.

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