Why is the following quote meaningful and representational of the work "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?: "And would it have been worth it, after all, after the cups, the marmalade, the tea, Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me, would it have been worthwhile, To have bitten off the matter with a smile, To have squeezed the universe into a ball."

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This quotation is highly representative of the meaning and themes of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Its tone is timid, hesitant, questioning; wondering whether it would have been worth doing something the speaker plainly did not do and probably could not do. The atmosphere of afternoon...

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This quotation is highly representative of the meaning and themes of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Its tone is timid, hesitant, questioning; wondering whether it would have been worth doing something the speaker plainly did not do and probably could not do. The atmosphere of afternoon tea “Among the porcelain” is entirely appropriate for the genteel creature who has measured out his life “with coffee spoons.” In the midst of this paraphernalia, the marmalade, more appropriate for breakfast than for tea-time, is as out of place as Prufrock himself, which is to say that it is subtly rather than wildly incongruous.

The violence of “bitten off” immediately gives way to the weakness of “a smile,” and the contrast between the vastness of “the universe” and the smallness of the speaker’s actual ambition is entirely characteristic of the poem’s method. This is the second time in the poem that the speaker who cannot maintain a firm hold on himself has contemplated doing violence to the universe. There is an echo of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” in the line “To have squeezed the universe into a ball” and the contrast between the powerful persuasive rhetoric of that poem and the indecision of Prufrock could scarcely be more marked. It is typical of Eliot to use an allusion to highlight a dichotomy in this way. These few lines, therefore, present the reader with a microcosm of the themes and atmosphere which pervade the poem as a whole.

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