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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


by T.S. Eliot

Analysis: Setting

Where It All Goes Down

We start this journey in a dark, smelly neighborhood of London. It’s October. Steam is rising from the streets, and a sick yellow fog circulates around the crooked houses. Drunks are stumbling out of the "sawdust restaurants" and sloppy-looking couples argue outside of "cheap hotels." A woman with bright clothes and too much makeup is leering at you from her doorway. And all the while Prufrock is there besides you, gesturing for you to follow him further down this rabbit-hole of squalor and darkness . . . Pretty soon you’re both lost, which was just what he intended.

Part of the poem takes place in this obviously hellish part of the big metropolis. But the poem’s other setting is just as bad, though it looks nicer on the surface. This is the London of the tired and bored middle-class, sitting in their cramped rooms drinking tea and coffee all day. All anyone seems to do is lie around and grow older. In other parts of the house, people are talking and laughing and music is playing, but we’re not allowed to go in there…Prufrock offers you yet another cup of coffee, and you don’t even know what time of day it is. If you eat one more "cake" you think you’ll explode. Prufrock is getting older before your eyes – his hair turns white and his arms get even thinner.

Out of nowhere, he takes us to the beach. (Finally! Our skin was getting pasty from all that staying indoors.) Look, mermaids! This is the nicest thing we have seen all day. But suddenly things get all disoriented and the world turns upside down. We’re at the bottom of the sea, surrounded by girls wrapped in seaweed. We hear voices, wake up, and…uh-oh.

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