Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Real Literature Question for Modernists

I've wondered this for a long time. You know how the notes for texts never answer the really hard questions? Well here's one for modernists:

Why is Prufrock afraid to eat a peach?


a. Duh, fiber! It will give him the runs!
b. Duh, he's afraid the juice will run and get all over his nice white flannel trousers.
c. He wanted to say "medlar," but the editors made him change it. And he's afraid because he knows all the real lit characters are going to mock him.
d. Other. (Seriously, why? I'm tired of being clueless in front of poetry classes.)


In other observations: Remember how the little birds in the "General Prologue" sleep at night with an open eye because nature pricks them in their "courages"? And "courages" there is tied to the Latin for heart?

Have you noticed that Pertolote chides Chaunticleer for being heartless, meaning, in this case, without courage?

I bet he doesn't sleep at night with an open eye, either! If he did, he wouldn't have silly nightmares and need to eat a peach*.

*maybe

15 comments:

  1. I've always associated a peach at that time with an exotic fruit---sensual, womanly, if you think of Georgia O'Keefe: and poor Prufrock clearly has a problem with women;-)

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  2. Is it the Allman Brothers Band that has that song about eating a peach all night long? It could be just a generalized "carpe diem" type seizing of the juicy bits of life, or it could be actual women's body parts.

    Or you could talk about the difficulty of getting a ripe, all-natural peach in England pre-air-freight, and compare to the eating food out of tins in the Waste Land. :)

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  3. Maybe it was seen as the biblical apple?

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  4. I think it's a sex thing. Because, yeah, what Anniem says: he's got some lady troubles.

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  5. Yes, in addition to Prufrock's unwillingness to dare anything, I'd think of eating a peach as cunnilingus, and his anxiety about doing so is clearly connected to his growing old and to the mermaids' not calling to him (and really, how unmasculine does one have to be if even the mermaids don't call?)

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  6. Because it's the only fruit that rhymes with "beach" and "each"?

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  7. Anonymous9:08 PM

    I feel like such a simpleton. I always thought it was about dental insecurity in old age.

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  8. I know peach seeds contain cyanide and/or arsenic or something. But I don't know if that was common knowledge or something people warned each other about back then...

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  9. Stones. Peach stones. Gah.

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  10. Aside from the metaphorical implications (Eliot always was a cunning linguist) there's also the fact the peach skins are tough to eat. I've always suspected that Profrock had dentures, myself.

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  11. I also had both the sex and dental associations. And come on, there are some nice bits in there, like that part about not being Hamlet but rather the obscure character. I like that - the Hamlets are gone, we only have boring minor characters.

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  12. It's overdetermined.

    On the surface it's the messiness, both external and internal and Prufrock isn't the messy sort. And, yes, the peach is a sexual symbol. Traditionally young boys' bottoms have been compared to peaches.

    Here, specifically, though, it's being thought of as part of a lifestyle, along with the DA haircut and the white flannels, a lifestyle that Prufrock would, in some moods, as when disgusted with bourgeois life, like to adopt, but can't: the mermaids will not sing to him.

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  13. oh, and Sysiphus, Prufrock was written in 1911, shortly after Eliot graduated from Harvard College and three years before he went to England. The beach on which he thought of wearing white flannels would have been American and the peach trucked up from Georgia. The bourgeois life which disgusts him is that of Boston.

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  14. hmm, but I thought flannels would be totally bourgie for that time! It sounds very upperclass, not anything bohemian or nonconformist at all.

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  15. All of the (overdetermined) above, and also:

    afraid to set up an end rhyme. The whole poem performs a sophisticated, high-strung ambivalence about end rhyme.

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