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J Alfred Prufrock and the Dramatic Monologue

             Abrams once said that there are three things that characterize a dramatic monologue. First, it encompasses the assertions of a "specific individual (other than the poet) at a specific moment in time." Second, the monologue is "specifically directed at a listener or listeners whose presence is not directly referenced but is merely suggested in the speaker's words." Third, the "primary focus of the monologue is the development and revelation of the speaker's character (Classic)." The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory simplifies this explanation by defining a dramatic monologue as a "poem in which there is one imaginary speaker addressing an imaginary audience (Penguin)." While the origins of dramatic monologues date back thousands of years, when they took the form of long dramatic speeches that revealed something about the speaker, by the 1800's, the art of dramatic monologue had adopted three things that would influence T.S. Eliot and his poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." They are a "distinctive manner of speech," the unintended revelation of the speaker, and "the poets" changing response to the very immediate circumstances in which, and of which, he is writing (Classic)." .
             "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" has a very unusual poetic structure. .
             The most obvious forms of structuring in the poem are Eliot's use of refrains. A refrain is a "line that is repeated at intervals during a poem," and in the case of Prufrock, they help to convey a mixture of malaise and paranoia (Penguin). By repeating lines like, "In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo," and, "that is not what I meant at all / this is not it, at all," we experience the compulsion and indecisiveness of Prufrock. There is almost no relation between Prufrock's experiences, which are presented to us as a group of disconnected and vague images. From a cityscape to a party to mermaids, this absence of congruity sheds light upon Prufrock's jumbled mind.

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