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How does Eliot use imagery to define his own fears of society

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In many of Eliot’s poems there seem to be two types of society: Polite society, who seem to be very false and never say what they mean, express their feelings or say what they would like. Then there is the other part of society, proletariat, which is common and dirty, but who seem to have no trouble at all saying what they mean, want and taking it. Through Prufrock, Eliot is disgusted with both parts of society, the first because they are so false, and he possibly doesn’t feel accepted, and the other because it is sordid and basic in it’s desires and he doesn’t want to be accepted there.

This poem is an excellent example of these two parts of society. Firstly it talks of the dank part of society, which is very base, and mentions “yellow smoke that slides along the streets” and “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels” putting forth images of dirty sex and dank filthy streets. Then it goes on to speak of the other part of society in which Eliot feels equally ill at ease, but in a very different way. Although he acts as if he despises these people, the irony is that he desperately wants to be accepted by them. In ‘The Love Song of J.

Alfred Prufrock’, we are first struck with the contradiction in the title; the name J. Alfred Prufrock is both ridiculous and pompous, suggesting someone who is overtly polite and possibly who has trouble expressing his feelings. Coupling this with a ‘love song’ appears somewhat of a juxtaposition, as we are unable to imagine these two elements together. The poem itself is used to convey how uneasy and inadequate Eliot feels around women (Eliot could possibly be representing himself in this character,) and how he feels he is not accepted by society.

He worries what they will think of him, “They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin… But how his arms and legs are thin'”. He feels he is being scrutinised by these people, like a butterfly, ” and when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin”, but also he realises the falseness and dullness of it all, ” I have measured out my life in coffee spoons”. Eliot is so fearful of their opinion of him, he feels it could even “Disturb the universe”. Eliot continues, in the guise of Prufrock, to tell us his feelings and fears about women, ” is it perfume from a dress/ that makes me so digress”.

He laments about how he doesn’t know how to tell of his feelings amongst all the insipid formality that keeps his passion bottled; “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to it’s crisis? “, does he dare tell her? “In short, I was afraid” no, he doesn’t. He is too scared incase he lays down his feelings but has got it all wrong, and she doesn’t feel the same way and says ” That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all.

He shows us that he does not feel important, he is a footman, not Hamlet, and he will always be the one carrying the rich robes of the Lord, rather than wearing them. Useful, but easily forgotten, possibly even ” the Fool”. He looks forward to his old age, where he can not care, and ” wear the bottoms of his trousers rolled”, but we know by the line; “do I dare eat a peach” he can never truly let go of his inhibitions. The act of eating a peach is messy, and he is worried that people will look down upon him for being disgusting and repulsive.

In ‘Portrait of a Lady’ Eliot appears unimpressed with his ‘friends’ descriptions and depictions of friendship. He starts the poem with a luxurious image of a room, although he calls it ‘Juliet’s tomb’, but then describes the conversation as a line of things unsaid, rather that what is actually said; “-And so the conversation slips/ Among velleities and carefully caught regrets/ Through attenuated tones of violins/ Mingled with remote cornets/ And begins. In doing this he is saying that the conversation avoids things which would cause controversy and discord, and mearly focuses on the things which sound nice, but possibly mean very little.

Again he goes on to talk of the ‘nice’ music being composed, but at the same time there is a “dull tom-tom” in “capricious monotone” inside his head; possibly he can’t bear the falseness of what is being said around him so he must amuse himself with something more interesting (this being the dull tom-tom) and if it is dull then the conversation must be even worse.

The actions of the people in the poem ” Admire the monuments, discuss late events, correct our watches by the public clocks, then sit for half an hour and drink our bocks” suggest things done because they are expected and polite, but while they are pleasant, they are obviously very boring and unstimulating. This contrasts with the romanticism of his lady friend, the character wants to do these things, which suggests that he like limits and regularity. Afraid to let go and express his true feelings.

The poem then turns to talk of a woman, obviously one who is attracted to the man, (we shall call him Eliot for the sake of argument) who talks politely of pointless things, so mundane as to be excruciating to the reader, though attempting to appear intellectual. “Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know/ What life is, you who hold it in your hands”. The mention of the word ‘friend’ seems almost satirical in this instance, as we know, in this poem, that Eliot does not look upon friends too favourably. Anyhow, Eliot is polite, “I smile, of course, / And go on drinking tea”.

She recalls days when she was happy “Yet with these April sunsets… I feel immeasurably at peace”, but then “The voice returns like the insistent out-of-tune/ of a broken violin on an August afternoon;” Eliot tells of the Ladies feelings, how she has nothing to offer him except friendship, which we know he does not look upon favourably. Indeed he glosses over it with the dull statement ” I shall sit here, serving tea to friends”. He remarks on “late events”; “A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance,” so we can tell he is mearly being polite and is not really interested. I keep my countenance”.

In the poem ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ there are many images of dysfunction; “Midnight shakes the memory / as a Madman shakes a dead geranium”, this is an image of lunacy, as is the line “Whispering lunar incantations”, we picture someone muttering spells at the moon, which obviously can’t come true. Even the people are twisted; a prostitute stands in the light of a door, “which opens on her like a grin”, not a smile, a grin, suggesting something filthy and sneaky. Her dress is torn and stained, which suggests that she has been used, possibly for violent sex. You see the corner of her eye / twists like a crooked pin”, this again suggests violence; she has been beaten.

These are the images that Eliot gives us of the rougher side of society, that they are dead and rotten “Like the world has thrown up / the secret of it’s skeleton”. “A broken spring in a factory yard, rust that clings… hard and curled and ready to snap”, this is a good description of the underbelly of society, that it has gone off, but it is not soft and cultivated like polite society, it has survived and therefore become stronger, but it is battered and worn. remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter… I have seen eyes in the street / Trying to peer through lighted shutters”, This shows that people are afraid, they have been beaten down so therefore flinch at the smallest movement.

The cat is hiding incase it is going to get kicked and the eyes are looking to see if those foot steps are the ones that will be coming up the stairs soon. It is a poem filled with fear. Eliot expresses sympathy for people who are stuck in that sort of life with no way out, while he feels disgust at the falseness and pettiness of polite society, they do not know how lucky they are.

Even the moon, which is meant to be beautiful, has gone wrong. It’s almost as if she has Alzheimer’s. ” She winks a feeble eye/ Smiles into corners… The moon has lost her memory” , she smiles because she doesn’t know that there is anything wrong, she doesn’t know that she has forgotten how beautiful things used to be. “Washed out smallpox cracks her face – she is alone” She is old and ugly, with only “old nocturnal smells” to remind her. But even these smells are associated with loose living and evil frivolities, ” female smells in shuttered rooms / and cigarettes in corridors, / and cocktail smells in bars”.

As the night draws to a close Eliot remembers what he just saw, “sleep, prepare for life. / The last twist of the knife” Possibly he feels it would be good to die and get away from the world, or that it is ironic that only in sleep he lives, life is a living death. Sweeny Erect talks of an ape like, base man, sleeping with a prostitute, then ignoring her whilst she has a epileptic fit. The first line puts in our minds harsh, wild images ” Paint me the bold anfractuous rocks / faced by the snarled and yelping seas”.

It then goes on to make majestic yet slightly fearful depictions; “Reviewing the insurgent gales… And swell with haste the perjured sails”, I feel these images are the sexual activity, grand but almost slightly frightening. They also give a contrast to the sordidness of Sweeny the Ape, evoke images of a heroic past and passion, the opposite of this character we are presented with. This fear issue is brought out more when we learn of the man partaking in the activity; “Gesture of orang-outang /rises from the sheets of steam”, this suggests it is quite a rampant, possibly even a bit violent, session.

Eliot obviously dislikes this sort of man, possibly even because he has the guts to do something Eliot himself might be incapable of, taking the step, giving in to basic urges, never mind polite society. But it is an obvious attack, from Eliot, on the immorality of society, done vicariously through this character. The man is described in quite a neanderthal way; “This withered root of knots of hair… Broad bottomed, pink from nape to base”, He is what we would now stereotypically depict a ‘sexist pig’ as. He obviously does not care for this woman as he simply “waits for the shrieks to subside” as he has a shave.

The women of the house are not much better “The ladies of the corridor/ /find themselves involved, disgraced”, “Observing that hysteria/ /might easily be misunderstood; Mrs. Turner intimates / it does the house no sort of good. ” This is Eliot being ironic, Mrs. Turner is worried about sullying the name of a whore-house. At the end of the poem we have “Doris, towelled from the bath,/ Enters padding on broad feet, bringing sal volatile, / and a glass of brandy neat. ” This is a rare part of Eliot poems, where he almost intimates that things might not be so bad after all.

Here we have this woman coming to help, but the most important part is that she has just had a bath so she is clean. So possibly Eliot is saying that amongst all the filth, there are things which are clean (bath) simple (the brandy and sal volatile, to help) and pure. ‘The Waste Land’ was Eliot’s longest and possibly most intricate piece of poetry. In ‘Burial of the Dead’, Eliot portrays things which are meant to be positive (April, month where things grow) as gone rotten, “April is the cruellest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land”.

This poem is done mainly from the view of Tiresius, a mythical character who told Oedipus the King that he was he who had brought plague, but even when he had done as asked and told the perpetrator, he was still condemned. Possibly Eliot sees himself as Tiresius, he sees the rotten world but feels he is powerless to stop it, just like Tiresius was powerless to stop events he had foretold. Eliot states that passion doesn’t last as expressed in the German extract of poetry; ” Frisch weht der Wind Der Heimat zu Mein Irisch Kind Wo weilest du? This was then emphasised by the line “you gave me hyacinths first a year ago,” saying it was a year ago is almost like saying ‘you don’t look at me the way you used to’, the passion has gone. Possibly Eliot feels it is not worth acting on feelings if they eventually go away anyway, which is why he has trouble with women, he cant see the chance to love as more important than the possibility of getting hurt. He talks again of filth in the world “under the brown fog of a winter dawn”, this shown again how he feels the world has gone bad.

Eliot mocks things which are mystical “Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante, / Had a bad cold, nevertheless / is known to be the wisest woman in Europe” She talks of pearls, which we would think of as beautiful, but in the role of eyes (in which she puts them) they are useless. This puts forward Eliot’s view of beauty being useless which is continued in ‘A Game of Chess’ when even talking about the mystical elements of the world, Eliot still brings out the sordid aspects. Even when there is supposed to be beauty and refinement, Eliot portrays an element of falseness in the beauty.

While the poem starts talking about a “burnished throne” it then shows that it is all a veneer, false “lurked her strange, synthetic perfumes… troubled, confused”. He talks of changing beautiful things; Philomel was beautiful and was changed to a nightingale by the “barbarous king / so rudely forced” as she was raped and had her tongue cut out. Then she “filled all the desert with inviolable voice”, it was a beautiful voice, but she could not be understood, “Jug jug to dirty ears”. This is like Eliot’s view of polite society, they say pretty things, but they don’t mean anything, are worthless.

Again Eliot gives references to madness (his 1st wife suffered from depression and was institutionalised, so we know Eliot had personal experiences of this) He shows the speech of someone who is obviously mentally ill ” my nerves are bad tonight… are you alive, is there nothing in your head? ” This the quickly changes to common speech (possibly Eliot feels that there is not so much of a leap between the two which is why he doesn’t like common society), In these sentences there are references to sex, adultery and the hardship of their lives, showing that Eliot feels this is all they talk of.

In the ‘Fire Sermon the Nymphs’ are a symbol of nature and joy, “the nymphs are departed” goes to show that there is no pure joy left, only sullied satisfaction. There is little evidence of life, with references to bones and death, “white bodies naked on the low damp ground / And bones cast in a little dry garret”. It goes from death and depravity to sex and depravity. Mrs Porter seems good because she is bathed in moon-light, but then we realise that she is a prostitute so a good thing is sullied and made bad.

This is another point Eliot makes, that all good things eventually go rotten. Eliot believes that there is no passion left in society, that everything is done for show, because it is the correct thing to do. If it is not dull polite and formal, it is soiled and sullied by sex and alcohol, but not in the light of a glass of chilled wine during lovemaking, in the sense of a straight vodka before a loveless encounter down an alley.

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