What role does inactivity or passivity play in this poem? Give at least 3 specific examples from the poem to support your answer.

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"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot is in many ways a poem about inactivity, indecision, and passivity. Towards the end of the poem, the narrator states:

No! 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 ...

These lines are, in a sense, paradoxical or ironic. Hamlet is a literary figure renowned for his indecisiveness and hesitation. Prufrock echoes Hamlet in his indecisiveness and the poem's allusion to Shakespeare's play makes the comparison explicit. What the comparison also foregrounds though is that Hamlet eventually does come to the decision to avenge his father's murder while Prufrock never does take the important step he is contemplating and at the end of the poem, as he imagines the mermaids singing to each other, reflects poignantly "I do not think that they will sing to me."

The narrator explicitly comments on his own indecisiveness and procrastination in the lines:

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

One gets a sense that his careful thinking and acute sensibility serve as a way to avoid the risks that action might entail, especially the risk of rejection or social embarrassment. Although the narrator is not entirely happy with his situation or lack of resolution, he is by nature risk-averse and more afraid of the consequences of action than of the consequences of inaction. The narrator sums up this attitude quite directly, stating "And in short, I was afraid."

That the fear is specifically of rejection becomes clear in the stanzas in which Prufrock imagines posing an "overwhelming question" to a nameless female character and then imagines his embarrassment of if she responded: "That is not what I meant, at all.” This prompts the decision in the final stanzas to remain a spectator rather than risking taking action.

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