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Alfred J. Prufrock, Dr. Jekyll and Judith Hearne Essay

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Alfred J. Prufrock

At the turn of twentieth century, more and more educated White people were finding themselves being deprived of psychological qualities that allowed their ancestors to build and to maintain civilization – they were becoming increasingly incapable to pursue with the collective mode of existence, while being slowly turned into egoistic individuals, for whom seeking the emotional comfort became a solemn purpose of their existence. These intellectuals would often indulge in utterly decadent practices, such as drinking small amounts of poison to make their skin look paler (this was considered fashionable in early 20th century Europe), while suffering from the fact that they were no longer able to feel themselves being an integral element of society – they experienced an utter metaphysical loneliness. The reading of Thomas Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” comes in especially handy, within a context of getting an insight of the main issue of existentialist philosophy of early 20th – one’s inability to take an active stance in life. In his poem, Eliot pinpoints exactly to the cause of Prufrock’s unhappiness:

“And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair” (Eliot, 1919)

It appears that Prufrock is not content with surrounding reality because his lack of willpower does not allow him to affect it. He does not consider “daring” but only wonders as to how does it feel “daring”. At the same time, he possesses enough intellectual honesty to admit his own existential worthlessness:

“Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea” (Eliot, 1919)

“Indecisions”, “revisions” – these are the words from vocabulary of 20th century. It requires certain strength to name things for what they are. Prufrock prefers to withdraw from rearranging the world, according to his own wishes, and to simply indulge into the dubious pleasure of savoring different aspects of his own sensuality. Nowadays, this Eliot’s work is being often referred to as “romantic novel”, but it is doubtful of whether author could feel love towards anybody but himself. In order to know how to love, one must know how to sacrifice. While living in England, Eliot did not volunteer to become a soldier, during World War One, while acting as a true coward. He considered himself as being too sophisticated to join the ranks. Therefore, the seemingly “deep” philosophical allusions, found in “Love Song of Alfred Prufrock”, are utterly artificial. Eliot’s poem did not have any greater purpose other than to socially establish the author as credible poet. Although in his poem Eliot never gets tired of whining about his loneliness and about the fact that other people do not understand him, we can hardly feel any sympathy for highly narcissistic and egoistic character of Prufrock.

Dr. Jekyll

Even though Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” can be referred to as the story of an individual dealing with its many “selves”, it would be wrong to suggest that Dr. Jekyll does did not suffer from loneliness. The so-called “split personality disorder” is being specifically triggered by one’s tendency to spend too much time, while analyzing its own existence, which can only be the case with truly lonely people. Therefore, we can hardly suggest that, while holding conversations with Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll was engaging in some form of social interaction. Stevenson’s novel simply provides us with the insight on why there is no existential uniformity among White people, as it is the case with Blacks or Chinese, for example – this is because they are being the representatives of continuously revolutionising race. Many modern anthropologists suggest that it was specifically the split in apes’ personality, millions of years ago (they were originally cannibals, but at some point of history it dawned on them that eating their own brethren was no longer acceptable), which actually initiated the process of apes being turned into homo sapiens. The fact that many White intellectuals, like Dr. Jekyll often manifest seemingly opposite psychological traits, might very well be the indication of such people standing on the brink of new evolutionary jump – from homo sapiens to the race of super-men. Therefore, the analysis of Dr. Jekyll’s behavior from strictly sociological point of view, can hardly provide us with a complete understanding as to his essence as individual, because he is not one but two: “With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two” (Stevenson, 1987). Unlike Elliot’s Prufrock, Dr. Jekyll possessed enough courage to experiment with his own life, as he was intellectually honest enough to recognize his physical existence as such that does not represent a foremost value. We can say that, whereas Prufrock’s loneliness had turned him into a complete degenerate, with allusions of poetic grandeur, Dr.Jekyll’s loneliness had rewarded him with the antipode of himself – Mr. Hyde.

Judith Hearne

There are many motifs in Brian Moore’s novel “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne”, which correspond to Elliot’s feelings of existential inadequateness. Judith Moore appears to be the person who continuously struggles with the discrepancy between her true self and the image of pious middle-aged woman, who believes that God would eventually take care of her. Yet, her interaction with objective reality brings Judith to conclusion that: “There comes a point in many people’s lives when they can no longer play the role they have chosen for themselves. When that happens, we are like actors finding that someone has changed the play” (Moore 1994). At the same time, unlike Prufrock, Judith does not separate herself from other people, while hiding inside the shell of superficial sophistication, simply because she does not have any. Just like Dr. Jekyll, Judith decides to proceed with exploring her true self, although she induces the state of “self-awareness” upon herself by the mean of drinking. It is only when she is drunk that the surrounding reality seems to make sense to Judith, which in its turn, allows her to gain pleasure out of interacting with other people. Eventually, Judith comes to realization that the role of self-reliant and confident woman suits her much better then the role of religiously naïve “soccer mom”, who is quite incapable to effectively deal with life’s challenges. In its turn, it brings Judith to conclusion that it was namely her, which could enlighten people she interacted with, on the subject of fictious notion of Catholic morality, and not the other way around. This allow us to conclude that, when compared with the character of Elliot’s Prufrock, both Dr.Jekyll and Judith appear to be in much more favorable light, because unlike Prufrock, they are capable of assuming active stance in life and because the process of social interaction is not being viewed by them as something utterly “denobilising”.

Bibliography

  1. Eliot, TS. 1919. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Washington State University.
  2. Moore, B. 1994, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Flamingo, London.
  3. Stevenson, RL. 1987, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Signet Classics, London.
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