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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock demonstrates the effects of social and economic pressure in the life of a Victorian man. T. S. Eliot shows us, in an ironic monologue, how the reality of age and social position paralyzes his character with fear. The poem opens with six lines from Dantes Infernio. This particular stanza explains that the speaker is in hell and the message can only be told to someone else in hell. The speaker tells us that it is OK for the listener to hear the message, since in order to hear you must already be in hell and no one ever returns from there.

So the message will never leave. I believe Eliot uses this message to infer that only a reader who understands the loneliness and desperation of Prufrock can truly understand the poem. However, in my research, I have found as many different interpretations of the poem as I have found readers. Most agree; however, that Prufrock is speaking to the reader when he says you and I(Line 1). Many readers also agree that Prufrock is a lonely man, but what type of company he desires seems to vary greatly. Interpretations include sex, social company, long term love, and even death.

I believe Prufrock yearns for the sense of belonging, both with a female and with his society. He struggles with issues of sex, age and social change. The beginning lines of the poem(1-25) paint for a very descriptive picture of the street where Prufrock is walking. It also alerts the reader of Prufrocks distaste for this area and this society. He describes it as have deserted,muttering. one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants. (5-7) He contrasts that with his destination of a room where women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo(13&14).

Prufrock doesnt give the reader much insight into his houghts until line 26. From this line forward, we get a glimpse of what it must be like to be Prufrock. He tells us There will be time, there will be time/ To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet(27-28), indicating repression. He must prepare himself mentally to be able to put on the correct social image before he makes his visit(12). The rest of the poem simply reinforces his struggle between the way he would like to be and the reality of his life.

He begins to ponder the overwhelming question(11) of whether or not he could have a romantic interlude ith one of the ladies he is gong to visit, but the socially acceptable and slightly neurotic side of him emerges and he quickly switches his thoughts to his thinning hair. I believe he is trying to gather the courage to approach one of these ladies (42-43&45-46) but looses the courage as quickly as it came to him. He then laments about his indecision and lack of courage, in a minute there is time/ For decision and revisions with a minute will reverse.

The theme of Prufrocks fickle thoughts run throughout the poem, as illustrated in his confidence about his outfit and taste, hen just the next line he his back to the insecurity about his age But how his arms and legs are thin. (45) Prufrock goes on to tell the reader of his experience I have known them all–/Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,(50) describing the stages of his life from his youth through his young adulthood to his present state, as a middle aged man. He feels the age and eventual death of not only himself but of the society he is a part of.

He hears voices dying….. Beneath the music from a farther room(52-53), and realizes that he is at the end of his ime. I think he realizes that he is not a member of the modern society, nor am I sure he wants to be. But he does feel that he is watched like a specimen formulated, sprawling on a pin(57). But unlike a bug in a bug collection, he is still alive and tortured wriggling on the wall(58). He realizes that his customs are a part of the past, but he is unable to see the way to move on.

He thinks perhaps he should spit out the butt-ends of my days and ways(60) but realizes he wouldnt know how to resume life in the new world And how should I presume? (61). Prufrock goes back to his own way of thought and begins to remember the women in the parlor and his mind begins to wonder to more physical elements of their company and he soon begins to muster up courage again. His confidence becomes evident And how should I begin? / Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets/ And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes/ Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows/… 69-72).

This stanza has almost a superior ring to it. As though Prufrock realizes he is socially superior to the men in the windows. He is careful to point out that they are smoking but not wearing their jackets. They are spending their evening leaning out of windows(72) overlooking narrow streets(70). A man of Prufrocks stature would not do such distasteful things and would therefore be worthy of these womens company. He carefully contrasts the women in the parlor whose arms braceleted, white and bare(63) lie along a table, or wrap a shawl(67) with the informal and guttural image of these men in town.

J. Alfred takes seven lines to carefully draw us a picture of a formal evening in his parlor, and only three to describe that which is distasteful to him. But knowing he will not be act on his feelings he decides he would be better off as a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. (71-72) Lines 75-86 tell of the sleep that both he and his culture are in. The cultures ignorance of its own impending death and his inaction regarding his desire for passion. He says he has seen the moment of my greatness flicker(84) which his own admission of his mortality.

And as he looks back he realizes that he is lonely. Prufrock says it would have been worth it, after all(88) worth the formality of his life he could simply have the company of one of these women. Perhaps, even worth the gossip that would have occurred(89) if he could simply feel the passion of a young man again. He hopes passion will bring him back to life(94-95). I believe his desire is much more than sexual. Prufrock wants one of these women of intellect who will challenge him. He wants to escape his own thoughts and have stimulating conversation. He wants a woman who will say that is not what I meant at all.

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Home » Literature » The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was written by T. S. Eliot in 1917. When looking at the title, one can immediately assume that this poem is a love story or even an actual love song. Actually, after reading one will find a great struggle and in fact no love song will be sung. The poem begins with a short passage from Dante’s INFERNO. With this reference, it immediately gives an eerie feeling of something evil or possibly something related to the devil. Reading the translation of this passage though, it leads you into feelings of sympathy for the man. It concerns a man and his identity, much like the actual poem.

This passage and its entire translation implies that in the poem Prufrock is only speaking because he is sure no one will stop and listen to him. Because we are reading the thoughts of the narrator in the first stanza the entire thing is very incoherent and it does not really make sense. As the poem progresses though, Prufrock continues to repeat ideas and phrases which brings a little more concreteness as to the path of the story. For instance, the usage of the phrase “you and I”. This line includes the reader into the poem, suggesting that by following along with him, one would better be able to understand his problems.

The images of the opening lines portray a dreary neighborhood with cheap hotels and restaurants. This is where Prufrock calls home. He invites the reader along on his journey. Specifically, in line 12 he is making a visit somewhere. Immediately this conjures images of the places that he and the reader will go together. He gives ideas about occasions like an afternoon tea party where women talk about Michelangelo. The correlation between Prufrock and Michelangelo is quite interesting as well because Michelangelo is quite the opposite of Prufrock. This is giving the idea of a negative association between the two of them.

This further establishes Prufrock’s low self-esteem issues and identity problems. The next stanza creates an image of a dull, damp autumn evening when the tea party he spoke of earlier will take place. Throughout the rest of the poem Prufrock spends much of his time imagining and orchestrating his arrival at the party, his attempt to converse intimately with the woman whose affection he seeks and his ultimate failure of making her understand him. Prufrock has attended these types of parties on prior occasions and knows the how they operate. This previous knowledge about how the parties work makes him hesitatant out of fear of failing again.

He is concerned that anything beyond polite conversation with this woman will be met with refusal. Moving forward, Prufrock plans his actions to approach the woman, but at the same time is planning to put it off. The phrase “There will be time,” is repeated five times between lines 23 to 36. With this, he is justifying his delay. In lines 44 and 45 he asks himself “Do I dare/ Disturb the Universe?. ” The universe he is referring to is his small group of social friends at this party. He fears that by expressing his feelings by singing a “love song”, he will be ostracized from the group.

He already “knows them all” and understands their low expectations of him. In line 70 he begins to rehearse a dialogue intended for one of the women in the group. Only seconds later does he give up. He then states he would rather be a crab than a man who has to ask for affection. Since Prufrock never afforded himself the opportunity to fail with this woman, he began questioning his effort and whether or not it would have been worthwhile. He rationalizes his fear by telling himself that speaking to the woman would not have gained a response. Though in line 110, Prufrock contrasts himself with Hamlet.

Knowing the story of Hamlet, he was a hero who was very hesitant and in the end made a very resolute decision. Prufrock actually sees himself more as the jester or fool. Prufrock concludes that he will retreat into a solitary and dignified old age. He realizes that his dreams of sharing his love with someone are dreams that have passed by. Now he has to deal with the empty existence of solitary as a passionless, loveless old man. This poem was very universal. Many people, at one time or another, have approached a situation with hesitation. Whether it is love, career, friends, we all are fearful of something at some point.

With this poem, T. S. Eliot was able to put those words down on paper. He created a simple story that many different people can relate too. By adding the notion of singing a love song to someone, it added a more personal touch to the story. It created a tie between J. Alfred Prufrock and the reader. Prufrock wanted to sing out his love to this woman. Many people have experienced situations in life where felt they wanted to speak out and speak up, but were fearful of the consequences therefore leaving nothing said at all. T. S. Eliot also was able to create a wide array of feelings for Prufrock.

A more dominant feeling was that of sympathy for Prufrock. The great use of language encouraged the reader to want for Prufrock to sing to this woman. It involves the reader in the story. You feel as though you need to give him encouragement, or maybe a cheering section so he will go ahead and express himself to her. At the end of the story, I experienced anger towards this man because he put so much time and effort into planning his big approach, he completely quit. He decided that he would give up completely on this girl. Now he is old and does not have anyone to share his love with.

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Home » Literature » The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

However, through his use of Prufrock’s profound self-consciousness he skews the reader’s expectations of a “Love Song” and takes a serious perspective on the subject of love, which many authors do, but few can create characters as deep and multi-layered as Prufrock; probably the reason that this poem still remains, arguably, Eliot’s most famous. The beginning of the poem is pre-empted by an excerpt from Dante’s Inferno which Eliot uses to create the poem’s serious tone, but also to begin his exploration of Prufrock’s self-consciousness.

By inserting this quote, a parallel is created between Prufrock and the speaker, Guido da Montefeltro, who is very aware of his position in “hell” and his personal situation concerning the fate of his life. Prufrock feels much the same way, but his hell and the fate of his life are more in his own mind and have less to do with the people around him. The issue of his fate leads Prufrock to an “overwhelming question… “(10) which is never identified, asked, or answered in the poem.

This “question” is associated somehow to his psyche, but both its ambiguity to the reader and Prufrock’s denial to even ask “What is it? (11) gives some insight into his state of internal urmoil and inability to reason. Prufrock’s dissatisfaction in his personal appearance is one, but not the most important of his idiosyncrasies. Not only is he unhappy with the nature of his appearance, having “To Prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;” but he is fearful of what others will have to say about him: “(They will say: How his hair is growing thin! ‘)”(41) and “(… But how his arms and legs are thin! ‘)”(44). Prufrock is insecure and frightened of peoples’ reactions to his balding head and slim, aging body.

Unfortunately, his lack of confidence sn’t limited to his looks. Prufrock has difficulty communicating with people – not surprising considering his extreme lack of confidence in his appearance. He’s indecisive and unsuccessful in his attempts to communicate with other people, repeating “visions and revisions”(33) and “decisions and revisions… “(48). Eliot uses repetition here to emphasize the concept of Prufrock’s alterations in behavior – whether he does change his behavior or not is another issue… ost likely he doesn’t because he also repeats the question “Do I dare? ‘ and, Do I dare? ‘”(38).

Possibly, he’s asking if he hould dare “and drop a question on your plate;”(30) meaning one of his “dares” could be something that he’d like to ask a woman but can’t; he also asks “Do I dare/ Disturb the universe? “(45-46). In this case Eliot uses hyperbole to give the reader the impression of the seriousness of Prufrock’s insecurities – they are his whole “universe. ” However, this is only one explanation where there are a number of possibilities.

Once again, Eliot uses the device of ambiguity to reflect the internal struggle in Prufrock and lead the reader to ask themselves again “What is the verwhelming question’ that Prufrock is asking? ” Unfortunately even Prufrock himself doesn’t have the answer… even recognizing the issue itself is beyond the simplicity of his mind, which he confesses by saying “I am no prophet- and here’s no great matter;”(84). By downplaying the importance of the issue, Prufrock echoes his lack of self-worth. In fact, to Prufrock, the issue is extremely important – the fate of his life depends on it.

His declaration that he isn’t a prophet indicates Prufrock’s view on his position in society, which he is as confused about as everything else. To interject a little history: Eliot wrote this poem during a time in which social customs, especially in Europe, were still a very important issue. There were basically two classes – rich and poor, neither of which Prufrock really fits into.

Eliot creates the idea of Prufrock being caught between the two classes in the very beginning of the poem, (if not by J. Alfred Prufrock’s unusual pompous/working class sounding name) when he juxtaposes the images of “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels/ And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells”(4-5) and the women who come and go Talking of Michelangelo. “(13-14). These two images represent two completely different ways of life. The first image is of a dingy lifestyle – living among the “half-deserted streets”(4) while the second is the lifestyle that Prufrock longs to be associated with – much like the image of Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel where God and Adam’s hands are nearly touching, but not quite.

While Prufrock doesn’t belong to either of these two classes completely, he does have characteristics of both. He claims to be “Full of high sentence; but a bit obtuse” hile “At times, indeed, almost ridiculous-“(117-118). Being the outsider that he is, Prufrock will not be accepted by either class; even though he can clearly make the distinction between the two and recognize their members: “I know the voices dying with a dying fall/ Beneath the music from a farther room. “(52-53).

This Shakespearean allusion (Twelfth Night (1. 1. 4) – “If music be the food of love, play on… That strain again! It had a dying fall. ) suggests that Prufrock is just out of reach of the group of people that he wishes to be associated with in life and love, but most likely his eelings of insignificance prevent him from associating with anyone at all. He sees himself as a unique “specimen” of nature, in a class all by himself – “And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin/ When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,”(57-58). This image suggests that not only is he an object for speculation, but he is trapped in that role; a situation which he is obviously unhappy with but has no idea how to change; he asks himself, “Then how should I begin”(59).

At this point in the poem, Prufrock is beginning to feel especially detached from society and burdened by his awareness f it. He thinks “I should have been a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. ” Eliot not only uses imagery here to create a picture of a headless crab scuttling around at the bottom of the ocean, but he uses the form of the poem itself to help emphasize his point here. The head is detached from the crab, and the lines are detached from the poem in their own stanza, much like Prufrock wishes his self-consciousness would just “detach” itself.

This concept is echoed in the very next stanza when he says, “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in/ upon platter,”(83), an allusion to the beheading of John the Baptist by Princess Salome. These two headless images represent Prufrock’s desire to be rid of his self-consciousness (obviously in his head) and possibly some suicidal tendencies which can be tied into just about all of the ambiguous questions Prufrock asks of himself throughout the poem.

Prufrock’s series of questions can also be tied into his unsuccessful attempts at relationships with women. His insecurities keep him from doing the things he wants to do; he feels inadequate and unable to express his true feelings to women, “Should I, after tea and akes and ices,/ Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? “(79-80). He knows what he wants to say, but doesn’t have the confidence or mental capacity to put his feelings into words.

He compares himself to Hamlet, “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;”(111), who, in contrast, was able to express his feelings very successfully to his lover – an ability which Prufrock is envious of, characterized by his emphatic “No! ” He is also second-guessing himself constantly throughout the poem: “Do I dare? “(38), “So how should I presume? “(54) and “Then how should I begin”(59) are all uestions Prufrock repeats to himself during his monologue. His feelings of inadequacy toward women are not only related to his appearance and lack of mental strength, but to the passage of time and its effect on him.

Throughout the poem, Prufrock struggles with the concept of time. He tries to keep reassuring himself that “indeed there will be time”(23), an allusion to a love story (Andrew Marvell – To His Coy Mistress – “Had we but world enough and time. “) which suggests that Prufrock fears that he will in fact not have time for love before the prime of his life is over. His obsession with he passage of time is characterized by its repetition throughout the poem, especially the beginning of the poem.

Eliot uses time as a tool to shape Prufrock’s complicated, disturbed psyche into the form of a mid-life crisis. Prufrock keeps assuring himself that, “indeed, there will be time” to do all of the things he wants to do in his life, but first he must come to terms with his insecurities. However, his insecurities are related to his aging and the passage of time, so he is truly a tragic, doomed character.

This is not to say, however, that Prufrock is unaware of the connection between time, his ging, and his unsuccessful attempt at a social life… n the contrary, he claims that he’s “measured out his life with coffee spoons,”(51) a true testament to the self-proclaimed insignificance of his life. Prufrock claims that “I have known them all already, known them all-“(49) referring to the “evenings, mornings, and afternoons”(50) of his life which he has seen pass by, insignificantly. He also says “And I have known the eyes already, known them all-“(55) and “I have known the arms already, known them all-“(61) which illustrate both his failure with and fear of women.

Ironically, Prufrock dreams of saying: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/ Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”(94-95), a biblical allusion to Lazarus, an elderly man brought back to life by Jesus – unfortunately for Prufrock, even if his dream came true, he still wouldn’t know what to tell them all, or how. Prufrock echoes the old cliche “Ah… to be young again; and know then what I know now. ” Unfortunately for Prufrock, it will take a miracle to make him either younger or give him the knowledge he seeks. Eliot doesn’t give any sense of hope for him in the poem – he remains a oomed character until the very end.

Prufrock even admits that he has “seen the moment of my greatness flicker,”(84) – a victim of time and natural selection. Prufrock’s connection to nature and the cycle of life is also an important factor in understanding his state of mind. In the third stanza, Eliot creates an image of yellow fog, connecting Prufrock’s consciousness and emotions to nature in a lazy, animal-like way. This connection echoes not only the insignificance of Prufrock’s emotional state in a “natural world” context, but the futility of Prufrock’s efforts should he try to contend with

Mother Nature and change his behavior – relating to Prufrock’s feeling of entrapment and inability to change his situation. He wishes to himself, instead, that he could be a mindless crab, scurrying around the bottom of the ocean; another example of Prufrock’s impression of his position in the natural world – rarely comparing himself to real people. In fact, in his dream sequence at the end when he imagines how his life might end up, he envisions himself as an ocean creature, surrounded by mermaids “Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Once again, Eliot disconnects Prufrock from the real world. Even though Prufrock’s fantasies to be a crab, swim with the mermaids, be young again like Lazarus, talk to women about Michelangelo with the poise and eloquence of Hamlet, slink around the city like a lazy yellow fog, and have his head chopped off like John the Baptist give him a detachment from his day-to-day worries about love and aging, he will never stop torturing himself trying to figure out that “overwhelming question. ” The only hope that Eliot gives the reader out of this poem is the hope that we don’t end up like Prufrock.

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