Study Guide

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Passivity

By T.S. Eliot

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Oh, Prufrock, why didn’t you just go into your lover’s "chamber" and ask her your darned "overwhelming question" when you had the chance?! Prufrock is the dramatic equivalent of a bump on a log. He never does anything. In this poem, no one does. Actions are discussed as either future possibilities or as thing already done and past. And not for a second do we believe that Prufrock has "known" all the things he claims to have known. The only thing this guy is good at is eating and wearing nice clothes.

Questions About Passivity

  1. Why does Prufrock "turn back and descend the stair" instead of entering the next room?
  2. What kinds of things does Prufrock claim he has done? Are any of them impressive or noteworthy?
  3. How does Prufrock pretend to be more assertive than he is?
  4. Can passivity alone make someone a bad person?

Chew on This

The entire poem is one big, long digression so that Prufrock doesn’t have to tell his life story.

Prufrock’s passivity is dangerous because it makes him hold tightly to the status quo. He is willing to go to great lengths to prevent things from changing.

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