The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

How does enjambment, like in lines 5-9, help create an alienating quality of the city scene in the first few stanzas?


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The unpleasant modern world is where "Prufrock" begins. Prufrock, much like da Montefeltro in The Inferno, is confined to Hell; Prufrock's, however, is on earth, in a lonely, alienating city. The images of the city are sterile and deathly; the night sky looks "Like a patient etherized upon a table" (3), while down below barren "half-deserted streets" (4) reveal "one-night cheap hotels / And sawdust restaurants" (6-7). The use of enjambment, the running over of lines, further conveys the labyrinthine spatiality of the city. Although Eliot does not explore the sterility of the modern world as deeply here as he does in "The Wasteland" (1922), the images are undeniably bleak and empty. Often overlooked in the opening salvo is that Prufrock's imagery progresses from the general to the specific and, tellingly, from the elevated to the low. We go from a general look at the skyline to the streets to a hotel room to sawdust-covered floors in restaurants. This debasement continues throughout the poem, both literally in the verticality of the images and figuratively in their emotional associations for Prufrock.