illustration of a woman holding a glass of wine and a man, Prufrock, standing opposite her

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T. S. Eliot
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Which Lines From "the Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock" Provide An Example Of Stream Of Consciousness?

How is the stream of consciousness exemplified in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?

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Stream-of-consciousness was a style of writing that matured in the early twentieth century to counteract what writers like Virginia Woolf or T.S. Eliot believed was too much emphasis on external detail in Victorian and Edwardian literature. 

"Prufrock" is told entirely through the thoughts of its main character, Prufrock, as he crosses London to attend a party and then becomes a self-conscious, unhappy guest at the party. When he describes London as like a patient on a table, he is projecting onto it his own gloomy, paralyzed state of mind as he travels through the city. The lines that reveal this bit of stream-of-consciousness are as follows:

When the evening spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table

At the party, we are inside his head as he worries about his bald spot or the impression he will make on other people. It is his own sense of futility, timidity, and triviality that he conveys as he thinks, unhappily, that he has measured out his life in coffee spoons, in other words, frittered it on trivia. He thinks, stream-of-consciousness, that

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

He yearns for a grander, more meaningful life than the repetitive series of parties and petty concerns he experiences. The poem never pulls away from inside his head to give us a corrective or a more "objective" vision of his setting or circumstances. Its whole point is to convey his angst, and the way this colors what he experiences. It leaves it up to the reader to evaluate Prufrock. What makes this poem different from, say, Robert Browning's highly subjective point-of-view dramatic monologue "My Last Duchess," is that Eliot's poem is not conveying what Prufrock is saying. It is simply communicating his thoughts.

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Stream of consciousness narrative is characterised by a point of view which goes beyond a simple account from one character's perspective and attempts to capture their internal thought processes, particularly the free associations and strange links they make between topics. The poem captures this narrative style by focusing on the thoughts and feelings of the persona, who is of course named in the title. He is walking to meet a woman for tea and is contemplating the question he is going to ask her, which we can infer is a proposal of marriage. However, there is no arrival or meeting in this poem. Instead, it consists of the internal and rather chaotic thought process of J. Alfred Prufrock. As he walks along, he casts himself in the role of various characters, including Lazarus and Hamlet, to name a few:

To say: "I am Lazarus, come from teh dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"--

As we follow his thoughts, we realise that he is debating the question he is to ask the woman he is to meet and contemplating his future life depending on the answer that he receives. It is this access that is given to the internal thought processes that make this poem such an excellent example of the stream of consciousness narrative.

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Given that the main character of the poem is having a dramatic monologue in which he is analyzing himself and the situation that he is in, such monologue becomes the stream of consciousness in the poem.

A stream of consciousness is a narrative technique characterized by the narrator's conversation with himself, not necessarily in an organized manner, as it is a "flow of thought and emotion" that runs throughout the literary piece. In drama it is known as a soliloquy, but in poetry and prose it would be called stream of consciousness such as in the story the Jilting of Granny Weatherall.


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