In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", what three heroic figures does Eliot contrast with Prufrock?Is his conflict as serious as the conflict that these men face?
There are three allusions to heroic figures in this poem. One of them is "Prince Hamlet," who Prufrock mentions towards the end. Hamlet was the prince of Denmark; Hamlet's uncle killed his father in order to usurp the throne. So, throughout the entire play, Hamlet is seeking revenge against his uncle, and during the course of that revenge, he gives several very profound, deep, moving, and powerful soliloquys as he tries to decide whether to kill him or not. He plots, plans, and schemes, and all in a very eloquent and dramatic way. Prufrock, who has been plotting and planning his own question that he wants to ask a woman, contrasts himself with Hamlet in these lines:
"I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool."
So, as he prepares to ask his question, he chickens out, and asks whether it would have been worth it, after all, to ask his question. His conclusion is no, and the reason why is because he is not eloquent, profound, or important like Hamlet was. He is, instead, more relatable to a servant, an "attendant lord" who stands in the background offering nondescript words and advice. He isn't one to have ever done anything dramatic or large in his life. Another heroic figure he compares himself to is Lazarus, who was a friend of Christ's who died, who was resurrected by Christ. He refers to Lazarus in the following lines:
"And would it have been worth it, after all...
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"—
Here, he is saying that what he feels like is Lazarus, a man who was considered out of the picture, who was dead, all of a sudden, unexpectedly, being raised from the dead and a part of the picture again, coming to tell them about what dying was. He feels his message is that serious, and that it is too startling, unexpected, and shocking to ask his question. He wonders if he does, will it be worth it if he is misunderstood? The last reference is to John the Baptist, who was a prophet preparing the way for Christ to come by preaching Christ's gospel and baptizing people. He was imprisoned, and had his head chopped off and brought to the royal family on a platter as proof that he was dead. Rather gory, yes, but Prufrock refers to this incident when he says,
"Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald]
brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker."
Here, he is referring to that incident to indicate that he feels, like John, like his time of glory is past. He is old, he is old news, he has already lived his life, and to attempt to live it again-either by asking a woman a question, or altering the state of things through his presumptions-would upset things too much. Prufrock's "tragedy" might not seem like it is as serious as these men's, but to him, it might. Consider if you were a terribly shy, socially awkward man who has low self-esteem and is getting on in age. Then, you think a woman likes you, so would like to investigate the matter, but are too chicken to do it. To him, it is life-changing, and horrifying. To us, who maybe can't relate to that crisis, it might just be seen as wimpy. But, if you put yourself in Prufrock's shoes, then it helps to understand the gravity of his conflict.