How is dramatic monologue used in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to reveal Prufrock's character?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the narrator, supposedly Prufrock himself, tells about his intentions to ask a loved one an "overwhelming question," and as he does tell us of that intent, he reveals quite a lot about his character and personality.  In dramatic monologues, there is usually an imaginary person who is telling about an event, and as they do so, they reveal their character.  So, the main issue Prufrock has on his mind in this poem is asking this person his question--what question, he never clarifies, but it is generally assumed that it is a marriage proposal, or some sort of revelation about his feelings.  As he ponders when and how to ask the question or bring up the subject, his mind wanders and reveals many other interesting aspects about his personality.

We learn that he is intimidated by women--he describes being in their company as being a bug "pinned and wriggling on the wall," which reveals he feels analyzed and powerless in their presence.  While he is intimidated by them, he is a lover of their beauty; he desribes their skirts along the floor, and the delicate hairs on their arms.  That beauty adds to his intimidations of them.

As Prufrock rambles in his monologue, we also learn that he is incredibly insecure about his appearance, and feels that people notice it and criticize it all.  He describes his receding hairline, his thin limbs, and how he feels he is growing "old," and how people will comment upon all of these things.

Another tidbit that comes through in the monologue is that Prufrock feels that we spend most of our time in life wasting our days with nonsensical and meaningless chatter and activities. He describes the futility of feeling like he has "measured out [his] life with coffee spoons" at various different social events. He's already "heard them all" as far as small topics of conversation go.  He feels these parties and events are a frustrating waste of time, and places where people cannot talk about things that truly matter.

So, Prufrock's intimidation of women, insecurity, and frustration with current social settings are all revealed in his narrative, along with other character traits. I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a dramatic monologue, a poem's narrator speaks to an unseen person, who does not answer back, and in doing so reveals aspects of his character.

Prufrock appears to be speaking to himself in a stream-of-consciousness monologue as he goes through his day. He reveals himself to be timid, self-conscious, indecisive, and prone to choose wasting his life on trivialities instead of the big questions that hover on the edges of his consciousness.

He buries his need to ask an "overwhelming" question as he decides he will make a "visit" to a party as he heads through the streets of London. As he travels the foggy streets, he insists "there will be time" for the larger questions. When he arrives at the party, he is worried about his bald spot, self-conscious about his clothing ("My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin"), and concerned people will say his arms and legs are too thin—all petty issues. He notes how many decisions there are to be made, but ever indecisive, he is willing to put them off, saying:

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

He complains that he has measured out his life in coffee spoons, by which he means that he has wasted it on the trivial, but he delays any grappling with life's important questions. While he keeps repeating "there will be time," we as readers begin to understand there never will be time, for the narrator will timidly go on as he has in a familiar, if unsatisfying, groove. By the end of the poem, the narrator acknowledges that he is getting older. He reveals that he fears that the deeper muse, the more important, imaginative life symbolized by the mermaid, will never come his way. 

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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