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How Has Eliot and Other Authors Presented the Theme of Cowardice and "the Failure to Live"?

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It is argued that one of the central themes in Eliot's poetry is what might be termed as 'the failure to live'. This is to say, many of his poems are in the voice of abstract characters that through fear, are unable to perform their animalistic natural instincts. The romantic Eliot regretted the buried feelings left unfulfilled and rued the cautious circumspection of our sluggish hearts. The ensuing will not only focus on Eliot's captivation with the critiques on ascetic renunciation, but will explore elsewhere into other author's linguistic and literary approaches to the themes of cowardice, timidity, weakness, inadequacy and failure.

Certainly one of the breakthrough poems of the twentieth century is The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In it, Eliot deals with the fragile and self-conscious human condition, touching on the ideas of inadequacy, sexual anxiety and fear of mortality. Prufrock's anxiety is revealed profoundly; he fears growing old ("I grow old... I grow old...") and is paranoid of social sophistication compared with his inadequate persona. The structure conveys this journey with no destination; it is merely interplay of expressions and memories. The end climax of the poem comes in where he exclaims, "No! I am not Prince Hamlet." The very fact that it is an exclamation is amazing. It's a sign of life, of emotion, of energy, of reaction and anger. He admits, and seems content with his role in life as an "attendant lord, one that will / To swell a progress, start a scene or two", in short, to play a supporting role to the more dynamic men of the world. But all that deliberation only results in this one exclamation. That is the only action he can summon up, and in that respect he is a failure. Here, we see a typically 'mock heroic' touch in the epic simile "When the evening is spread out against the sky/ Like a patient etherized upon a table" - T.S Eliot's cherished objective correlative reveals more about Prufrock's morbidity, inertia and passivity, than about the evening. The semantic field of body parts and particularly hair provides disguise, but the thinning of Prufrock's hair is a very obvious sign of male decline in middle age, and with it comes Prufrock's sense of inadequacy and his low "self-esteem". The Insistent rhetorical interrogatives, "how should I begin?", "And how should I presume?" produce a sense of arid and futile self-questioning in Prufrock's interior monologue, producing timidity. The sense of weakness is achieved in the reiterated declarative petitions ("let us go") rather than imperatives: he is urging, rather than instructing.

Portrait of a Lady is what could be said as Prufrock's wife poem. Arguably, the lady in question is also the character in Pound's Portrait D'une Femme, based upon a lady named Adeleine Moffatt, who lived in Boston and once invited T. S. Eliot and other selected undergraduates to tea and conversation. It develops the themes in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock to an extent where Eliot emphasizes, by using negative sentiments, the lack of communication between man and woman in modern society.

On a discourse level, Portrait of a Lady is the same story told by two voices, which merge, allowing more to a different but complimentary point of view. The direct speech inflicts the female voice upon the reader, but the narrator is the young man, whose characterisation begins first. He reveals his thoughts when she invites him in after they have been to a piano recital. He feels distaste for the emotionless mannerisms of the pianist they have been hearing with the mechanised dynamic verb "transmit"; he suspects the conversation which follows to have been planned in advance - "prepared for all the things to be said" and is oppressed by the intimate candlelight setting, which to him suggests Juliet's tomb. When the lady speaks his satirical imagination supplies a musical accompaniment, in which the violins play apathetic air and the vulgar sound of the "cracked cornets" - the cacophonous phonemes here create the effect of cussing. He attentively records the small affectations, the repetitions, and what he feels is the excessive emotion in her speech. He is alert for a "false note", reinforcing his distaste for the banality of these women's lives; to him they are weak and inadequate.

An intense similarity comes to the attention with the male voice and the character of Stanley from A Streetcar Named Desire: a practical man firmly grounded in the physical world, who disdains Blanche's fabrications and does everything he can to unravel them. To take a broad view, Blanche and the female voice in A Portrait of a Lady are presented in a way where they try to appear to have intellect only to hide their weakness and insecurities.

The locus classicus of timidity in Eliot's poetry is The Hollow Men, the first (radically different) thing Eliot wrote after The Waste Land. It is spoken by men without substance - without guts, without integrity-men who are spiritually gelded. Eliot is here considering spiritual evasiveness-the torpid version of renunciation. His epigraph refers us to Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Mr. Kurt. And hollowness features in Conrad's novella: "I let him [the brickmaker



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