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Sinister Streets

Symbol Analysis

The poem begins with Prufrock inviting us to take a walk with him, but we soon learn that this isn’t some romantic tree-line avenue by the river. Quite the opposite, it seems to be the seediest part of town. True to Prufrock’s circular and evasive style, the poem returns several times to the imagery of these gritty streets, with contrast with the prim and proper middle-class life he seems to lead. Just like our narrator, the streets are misleading and go nowhere.

  • Lines 4-7: Parts of the scene are depicted using personification. It’s not the "retreats" that are "muttering," but it seems that way because they are the kinds of places where you would run into muttering people. Also, the nights aren’t actually "restless"; they make people restless.
  • Lines 8-10: In this simile, the winding, twisting streets are compared to a "tedious argument" that makes people lost with confusion. An "argument" is a line of reasoning – lawyers make arguments, for example. Usually arguments are supposed to answer questions, but this one only leads to "an overwhelming question."
  • Lines 13-22: An extended metaphor comparing the streets to a cat runs through this entire stanza. Prufrock never actually uses the word "cat," but it’s clear from words like "muzzled," "back," "tongue," "leap," and "curled" that he is talking about a sly little kitty.
  • Line 64: The lamplight from the same streets reveals the hair on the woman’s arm.
  • Lines 70-72: Prufrock returns to the setting of the beginning of the poem to give the imagery of a man leaning out of a window and smoking a pipe.

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