Working on a section in my paper regarding the setting
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Debasement and Hell
The opening image of the evening "spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table" (2-3) hints that what is lower down will be much worse. The epigraph from Dante's Inferno, a work in which the hero descends into the nine successive levels of Hell, also suggests this lowering of height and expectations. Indeed, Prufrock sweeps the reader on a generally downward ride - from the skyline to street life, down stairs during a party, even to the sea floor. Prufrock consistently feels worse about himself in these situations - the reference to "Scuttling across the floors of silent seas" (74) is the ultimate in self-pitying - but they have more resonance when we consider the Dante epigraph. Prufrock is descending into his own Hell, and he brings the reader along with him for safety - just as Guido da Montefeltro tells Dante his story in Hell only because he thinks Dante will never resurface and tell others about it. Fittingly, Prufrock switches from his first-person singular narration to first-person plural in the last stanza: "We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown" (129-131). For his final plunge, Prufrock wants to make sure that we, his Dantesque listener, accompany him into his self-pitying Hell.