Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-gvh9x Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-22T16:38:59.364Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

2 - Prufrock, Party-Goer: Tongue-Tied at Tea

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2014

Get access

Summary

J. Alfred Prufrock would not rank highly on anyone's list of partyguests. Distinctly lacking in conviviality, the protagonist of T. S. Eliot's poem anticipates ‘the taking of a toast and tea’ as an excruciating occasion on which the ‘overwhelming question’ he wishes to pose will be, even if he can bring himself to pose it, painfully misunderstood. The work's critics have attributed the problem to Prufrock (or Eliot) himself, analysing his internal wrestling in terms of fear of female (and male) sexuality, hysteria and other psychological disorders, Matthew Arnold's ‘buried life’, Sigmund Freud's notion of the uncanny and Henri Bergson's ideas of anticipatory retrospection, inhibitory self-awareness and dédoublement. Without gainsaying the interpretative richness of these approaches, this chapter suggests another: a redirection of critical focus from the construction of Prufrock to the anxiogenic situation. Why does Eliot choose – of all things – a tea-party as the occasion of his protagonist's logophobia? Why should an apparently benign prospect, the consumption of ‘tea and cakes and ices’ (l. 79), provoke such consternation? In pursuing these questions, which centre around the opportunities and limitations of the social sphere, Jürgen Habermas's theories of communicative action are illuminating, particularly given their affinities with the thinking of Josiah Royce and F. H. Bradley, philosophers with whose work Eliot was intimately familiar. But Eliot's poem also tests Habermas's theories by introducing complicating factors of soma and psyche to communicative situations.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2013

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×