Orpheus vs. Prufroch

Though different in era, context, genre, and basically everything else, I still believe Orpheus and J. Alfred Prufrock to have a strikingly similar foundational basis for their views of women. Taking a look at either work, one can examine their actions and find an implicit formula for how they will react and treat the opposite sex.

 

Orpheus is the more sympathetic character, but deceivingly so. The story begins with the wedding of him and Eurydice, and after Eurydice’s death, Orpheus is stricken with grief. One might sympathize Orpheus, but his actions later in the myth are what reveal his true intentions and what he places most importance in. He is favorable in his early intentions: braving the Underworld, meeting Hades face to face, and using his best abilities to save her. Eventually a deal with the devil is made; Eurydice will be resurrected and brought back to the other world, so long as she follows behind Orpheus faithfully and he does not falter in his steps. He must not look back at Eurydice to ensure her presence- he can only trust she intends to walk behind him. She has a choice, and she chooses to follow Orpheus, so it is inherent that she does love Orpheus or her former world. This may be one or the other, or both even, but for this purpose they fall under the same umbrella and produce the same action. She follows Orpheus through the Underworld fearlessly, believing him suitable to save her from Hell. Finally, just when she can see the world and the flowers and the sky, Orpheus takes one look back to ensure she is still following. This shows Orpheus’ true intentions. He does not love Eurydice purely; he loves her in a self-centric, self-servant way, in which she is only meant to appease him. Simply, he is in love with their relationship, and not her herself. If he truly loved her unabashedly and unconditionally, he would have believed in what Hades had said and done what he could to save her. Regardless of whether or not this was true, he still chose to break from the assumed contract he had with Hades. This was the only chance he had to save her, and he decided a look to make sure she was still there was worth the chance of sending her back. One might say he was too attracted to not be able to look away, but to put it in practical terms, he chose to serve his own eyes and fears than to actually save her. His love for her was not able to overcome his love for himself.

 

Prufroch is similar in this: a self-centric, woeful man seeks to find a mate “worthy” of his standards, the other possibilities nothing more than just simple body parts, but finally after what seems like forever of searching he sees something worthy of his interest, yet he is too fearful of actually asking a question. Prufroch is too scared to be able to take a risk, whether it is because of his insecurities or because of failed relationships before. These past relationships we can assume have been failed and nothing more than physical relationships, implied from the first stanzas of the poem. The Dante quote in the beginning is roughly translated to mean “I’ll tell you my intentions if it doesn’t ruin my reputation”. Prufroch does not truthfully care about women; his intentions showcase his secondhand treatment of women, believing them to be subservient bodies fit to feed his ego and reputation. He wants more than the average middle class fine dime. But what is so poetically ironic about Prufroch is that he is too proud to share his intentions yet too much of a coward to ask a woman out on a date. He is duplicitous and intends only to appease himself, not caring about women in an unconditionally loving way so as to sacrifice his own self, but rather to use them as blocks to build his own castle.

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