The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock vs Richard Cory

The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock vs Richard Cory

A by joliecouer

This is another essay I wrote for my Honors English Class. Prufrock is one of my all-time favorite poems.


        Throughout the ages, literature has given birth to countless heroes who exemplify the most prized qualities of mankind. Romeo and Juliet teach the world to love, Odysseus shows the strength of perseverance, and Scout Finch embodies the power of an open mind. However, the rise of the modernist movement of the twentieth century spawned a new sort of hero; one who is not a mere manifestation of goodness, but rather a symbol of the murkiness that lies behind the human facade. Edwin Arlington Robinson’s classic poem Richard Cory and T.S. Eliot’s masterpiece The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock both incorporate this breed of troubled central characters who represent unpleasant reality and disillusioned truth. Cory and Prufrock are both timeless literary figures who hide their insecurities behind aristocratic, high-class veneers and bring to life the age-old idiom “Things are not always what they seem”.     


    The story of Richard Cory is abrupt, vague, and tragic. Robinson does not offer much intimate insight into the workings of Cory’s mind, thus readers must glean the substance of his character through his actions and the perspective of common people. It is clear that Cory is of high social standing and “admirably schooled in every grace” (8). The working class people admire and envy this “gentleman from sole to crown” (3). In short, he embodies their faith in the American Dream and they “wish that [they] were in his place” (11, 12). Alas, this publicly acclaimed man of supposed esteem puts a bullet through his head one calm summer night. His entire persona is a testament to the complexity and sheer paradoxical nature of the human psyche. Here is man who the world thinks has it all, an alleged bastion of sophistication and success, but in reality, he is lacking in the most severe of ways. Whatever pain, unhappiness or insecurity he feels, he hides behind his façade of self-contained eminence. His invisible vulnerability kills him in the end. The unperceiving common people see everything in him, while he sees nothing in himself. Thus human nature plays the biggest scam of all, showing just how illusive outward appearances can be.     

    J. Alfred Prufrock is another flawed hero who hides his true character beneath layers of sugar-coated deception. In contrast to Edwin Arlington Robinson, T.S Eliot makes every effort to showcase Prufrock’s chaotic and rambling thoughts in a fashion reminiscent of stream of consciousness writings. Whereas much of Richard Cory’s character is left free to presumption, Prufrock is a much more meticulously molded individual who displays great insight into his own intricately confused emotions. On one hand he transcends the blasé social ignorance of his times and acknowledges the shallowness of the life he leads where “women come and go talking of Michelangelo” and curiosity is just another topic discarded “before the taking of a toast and tea”(). On the other hand, his insecurity traps him in a vicious cycle of ‘he said, she said’ that leaves him acutely aware of trivial nuances such as a “bold spot in the middle of [his] hair” and how “they will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin’” (40). Prufrock realizes that he has “measured out [his] life with coffee spoons”, yet this understanding of his pettiness does not make him a person more committed to changing himself. Instead he sees himself as a useless “pair of ragged claws” that move not in forward progression but in scuttling sideways twitches that take him nowhere. All he can do is ask questions and wonder if he, “after tea and cakes and ices,” has the “strength to force the moment to its crisis” (80). Like Richard Cory, Prufrock hides these insecurities behind his veneer, his “face to meet the faces that [he] meets” (27.) However, he differs from Richard Cory in that he lacks the courage to put an end to his emotional floundering. He does not change himself, nor does he kill himself to escape his self-proclaimed uselessness. Instead, he wallows in a sea of wanton desires and self-pity until “human voices wake [him], and [he drowns]” (131).       


  These two quintessential characters of American Modernist literature converge and deviate on different psychological levels, but together they embody some of the most powerful complexities of human consciousness. In them, hope conjoins with despair, love mingles with hatred, and curiosity caresses ignorance. J. Alfred Prufrock and Richard Cory are caveats of man’s potential for self –destruction, while at the same time, manifestations of the universally august idea that there is more to a person than what meets the eye. .

© 2008 joliecouer

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What a very excellent essay, Jolie. I dare say I was dumb struck at having chanced upon this contribution to the WC. There are many here that could benefit greatly by your observations, critique and commentary. I do hope you will continue to both contribute (more) and review as you may find the time. A keen mind as yours will be truly appreciated here. Thank you for sharing!

Posted 7 Years Ago

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Added on July 31, 2008
Last Updated on July 31, 2008