Thomas Stearns Eliot was born to a very remarkable New England family on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. His father, Henry Ware, was a very successful businessman and his mother, Charlotte Stearns Eliot, was a poetess. While visiting Great Britain in 1915, World War I started and Eliot took up a permanent residency there. In 1927, he became a British citizen. While living in Britain, Eliot met and married Vivienne Haigh -Wood and at first everything was wonderful between them. Then he found out that Vivienne was very ill, both physically and mentally.
In 1930, Vivienne had a mental breakdown and was confined to a mental hospital until her death in 1947. Her death was very hard on Eliot and he died on January 4, 1965. Most of Eliots works were produced from the emotional difficulties from his marriage. Because of Eliots economic status, he attended only the finest schools while growing up. He attended Smith Academy in St. Louis and Milton Academy in Massachusetts. In 1906, he started his freshman year at Harvard University studying philosophy and literature. He received his bachelors degree in philosophy in only three years.
Eliot went on to study at the University of Oxford and also at the Sorbonne in Paris. At the Sorbonne, he found inspiration from writers such as Dante and Shakespeare and also from ancient literature, modern philosophy and eastern mysticism. Eliots first poem he wrote was The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in 1915. Eliot converted his religion to Anglo – Catholicism and in 1927, his poetry took on new spiritual meaning. Ash Wednesday was the first poem he wrote after his conversion in 1930. It is said that it traces the pattern of Eliots spiritual progress.
It strives to make connections between the earthly and the eternal, the word of man and the Word of God and the emphasis is on the struggle toward belief. Thus telling us that God is part of Eliots American dream. Other poems Eliot has written are Portrait of a Lady (1915), Mr. Apollinax (1916), Sweeny Among the Nightingales (1918), and Four Quartets (1943) which he believed to be his greatest achievement. Eliot also wrote the play “Murder in the Cathedral” (1935). It was about the murder of Thomas Becket and was later turned into a film in 1952.
Other plays written by Eliot are “The Family Reunion” (1939), “The Cocktail Party” (1949), “The Confidential Clerk” (1953), and “The Elder Statesman” (1959). Eliot is considered one of the greatest poets and equally one of the greatest critics to ever live even though many were put off by his personality. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1948 and the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. In Eliot’s masterpiece “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” as time passes so does the human spirit of the narrator. His heart decays by the moment.
Even within his fantasies he is tortured by the ever-present problems which plague him throughout his life. He can’t even see the point in expressing his love because of the fear of being rejected. Eliot’s depiction of the worries of aging is a major aspect incorporated into the poem. Although Prufrock is a man of knowledge and society he is still a misfit because of a little characteristic he can do nothing about. Age kills us all, but for Prufrock it has already killed him. In T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the author is establishing the trouble the narrator is having dealing with middle age.
Eliots American Dream has the effect that eternal life, love and beauty is what he wishes he had. Prufrock (the narrator) believes that age is a burden and is deeply troubled by it. His love of some women cannot be because he feels the prime of his life is over. His preoccupation with the passing of time characterizes the fear of aging he has. The poem deals with the aging and fears associated with it of the narrator. Prufrock is not confident with himself mentally or his appearance. He is terrified of what will occur when people see his balding head or his slim and aging body.
He believes everyone will think he is old and useless. They will talk about him behind his back. (They will say “How is hair is growing thin! “) My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin– (They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin! “)(41-44) This insecurity is definitely a hindrance for him. It holds him back from doing the things he wishes to do. This is the sort of characteristic that makes Alfred into a tragic, doomed character. He will not find happiness until he finds self-assurance within himself.
The repetition of words like vision and revision, show his feelings of insecurity in communicating with the people around him. J. Alfred Prufrock’s self esteem affects his love life greatly. The woman he is in love with is younger than he is and this distresses him. He does not believe that some younger women could possibly accept him or find him attractive. Expressing any kind of affection to her is awkward and difficult. Prufrock knows what he must say but cannot bring himself to say it.
“Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to it’s crisis? 79-80) His suspiciousness in his love life, is very troublesome for him indeed. He wishes greatly to express his affection but it becomes silenced within him. He compares himself to Lazarus who was man that Jesus raised from the dead. He feels that it will take a miracle to make him feel young again. Prufrock sees his age as the end of his romantic spirit. He assumes the response to his love will be snappy and heartless. Prufrock believes that women do not find older men attractive or see a possibility of romance in them.
The rhyme scheme Elliot uses in this poem represents the worldly and confused mind of the narrator. The poem is written using a non-uniform meter and rhyme. Various stanzas are not of uniform length. This method is used to represent the mood and feelings in the verse. Prufrock is feeling confused and overwhelmed by the adversities of life so it is logical that his thought will have the same types of characteristics. His thoughts lead to ambiguity such as at the start of the poem. “There you go then, you and I”(1) This could be referring to Prufrock and himself, or Prufrock and his lover.
If I believed that my reply were made To one who could ever climb to the world again, This flame would shake no more. But since no shade Ever returned- if what I am told is true- From this blind world into living light, Without fear of dishonor I answer you. ” These lines are taken from Dante’s “Inferno”, and are spoken by the character of Count Guido da Montefelltro. Dante meets the punished Guido in the Eighth chasm of Hell. Guido explains that he is speaking freely to Dante only because he believes Dante is one of the dead who could never return to earth to report what he says.
Elliot wrote this poem in a time when social customs were still considered an issue. Everyone had their place and did not vary from that. Stereotypes of groups were lived up to and nobody tried to change it. Elliot uses clear images of different classes in order to show these dissimilarities. The lower class lived a meager, dull and predictable life. They spend “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels. “(6) The rich on the other hand are educated and enjoy life every day. They are busy and bustle around joyfully in order to get things done. In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo. (13-14) Unfortunately, because of his age Prufrock feels that he does not belong to any of these classes. He has similarities pertaining to each of them but as a whole feels that he simply exists in his own classification. The debate in Prufrock’s mind finally comes to a close when he compares himself to Prince Hamlet from William Shakespeares masterpiece Hamlet.
Hamlet was able to express his love and J. Alfred was envious of that. “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was it meant to be” Am an attendant lord, one that will do. 11/112) He feels he is more like Polonius an old, attendant to Lord Hamlet who is intelligent, wise, and eager to please. He will never be the main character because he has an inferiority complex. Prufrock decides he is diplomatic, conscientious, and strives for perfection. However at the same time he tends to lack some sort of mental power, fears he is looking like a fool. This is the conclusion he comes to in order to decide to accept his place in society and live life the way he should. Eliot uses the reference of time often in order to show the state of mind of the narrator.
The contrasts used show the total indecisiveness of Prufrock. For the most part the examples are used to illustrate the stereotype of an old person. It is accepted that aging people did not work and therefor had time for considering life and other aspects of their existence. And Indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare? ” and, “Do I Dare? “(38) His eternal dilemma is characterized by his belief that there will be time to consider everything. The time allusions are to show that Prufrock is getting increasingly older.
He says “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. 51) This again shows his obsession with the passing of time. Feeling like that of an outsider, Prufrock discovers he cannot exist with the type of people he once did. He can relate to them but he feels they will not accept him because of his age and appearance. His existence is solitary and boring while their state is fun and exciting. “I know the voices dying with a dying fall/Beneath the music from a farther room. “(52-53) He can hear the voices of his neighbors but he cannot go to them. He is bothered by the idea of the younger generation examining him. He wishes he could fit in but believes that is not a reality.
Fantasizing of a world where these problems do not exist is a pleasant daydream for Prufrock. He imagines the peaceful world under the sea where social classes do not exist. This shows the internal conflict still occurring within him. Even though he has overcome his problem with his love life, he still has many other worries to contend with. The mermaids are singing beautifully, but in his opinion, they cannot possibly be singing for him. His insecurity is still present and seems incurable.
His fantasy world is brought to a crashing halt easily. “Till human voices wake us, and we drown. 131) His only happiness can be found in daydreams and can be destroyed easily as such. Although giving him temporary relief from the pressures of his life, this dreamlike state is destroying his heart and only returning to the real world will save him. T. S. Eliots American Dream had many different meanings from him. His American dream can be seen through this poem and many others. People can interpret what they want, but what I see is that his dreams are eternal life, love, happiness, and beauty. Thomas Stearns Eliots American Dreams are the normality of everyone.