Thomas EliotThomas Sterns Eliot wrote the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”over a period of six years and published it circa 1917 at the ripe old age oftwenty-nine. As his first published poem, ?Prufrock’ revealed Eliot’soriginal and highly developed style.
Its startling jumps from rhetoricallanguage to clich?, its indirect literary references, and its simultaneoushumor and pessimism were quite new in English literature. (World Book, 236)Prufrock’s quest for a life he cannot live and a question he has difficultyconfronting is intriguingly played out in various aspects of his humanity. He isdoing battle in all aspects of his personality, which establishes him as aneurotic character. Neurosis, as defined by the Thorndike/Barnhart World BookDictionary, is: any one of various mental or emotional disorders characterizedby depression, (“I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling acrossthe floors of silent seas. “) anxiety, (“So how should I presume? / And howshould I presume? / And how should I begin? / And should I then presume?”) andabnormal fears, (“Do I dare disturb the universe?”).Order now
The personality ofPrufrock embodies these characteristics. The physical, mental, and spiritualaspects of his life are governed by this ailment. Its fingers entwine about hisvery soul, affecting every area of his consciousness. Physically aging, thisthin, balding male is aware of his decaying image, thus more self-conscious andless confident. This cannot be more clearly stated than in lines 40-45: With abald spot in the middle of my hair? (They will say: “How his hair is growingthin!”) My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktierich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin? (They will say: “But how hisarms and legs are thin!”) These physical insecurities prevent him from livingthe life he longs for by distracting him from the things that have real meaning,i.
e. , “Shall I part my hair behind” and “Do I dare to eat a peach?”These are petty questions that he asks to avoid the “Overwhelming question. “Prufrock is consumed with these insignificant details of his life. Prufrockavoids life not only through trite physical worries, but through numerous mentallabors as well. These mental labors range from imagining himself as beingcompletely vulnerable “Like a patient etherized upon a table” to Prufrocklooking at the superficiality of his life. The lines “I have measured out mylife with coffee spoons”, “.
. . setting a pillow or throwing off a shawl”,and “I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” show the shallowness ofthought he uses to avoid coming to terms with his old age. Prufrock is a lonelyman. In the poem, there is no evidence of any relationship outside of the one hehas with himself. He makes references to “.
. . restless nights in one-nightcheap hotels” and “women come and go. ” He desires intimaterelationships, yet lacks the courage and self-confidence to even begin to pursuelove. His humanity and dignity cannot fully be realized without it.
Prufrockfancies himself to be someone who has known it all ? the evenings, themornings, the afternoons, the eyes, the arms. His pride leads him to believethat he someone that he is not. Prufrock believes that life is superficial, buthe alone is deep. He may not be Prince Hamlet, yet he is still advisor to thePrince.
This is not a lowly job. He speaks highly of himself when he states “Deferential, glad to be of use, / Politic, cautious, and meticulous. ” Proud ashe is, however, Prufrock eventually states the inevitable. He admits to being”Almost, at times, the Fool. ” With this confession, his pride crumbles andhe surrenders to the realization of his mortality.
The very next lines emphasizethe gravity of this new awareness, “I grow old. . . I grow old.
. . ” Here liesthe turning point of his worldview. Prufrock once had “Time to turn back anddescend the stair,” but now time is running out.
Throughout the poem,Prufrock’s concept of time changes. Initially, he takes time for granted:There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces thatyou meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the worksand days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you andtime for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visionsand revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea. There are two significantincidents in the poem that cause Prufrock to alter his view on time. The firstis when he asks the question “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” Immediatelyafter posing this question “. .
. there is time For decisions andrevisions which a minute will reverse”, implying that he realizes his time islimited. Second, he comes to the understanding that he plays the part of theFool, which arouses the realization that he is almost out of time. Thisawareness leads him to the “Overwhelming question”: What happens after timeruns out? Fingers entwining about his very soul, Prufrock’s neurosis leads himagain and again to peer into the face of death. He has “.
. . seen the eternalFootman hold coat, and snicker. ” In short, he was afraid.
“The eyesthat fix you in a formulated phrase” are the eyes of God calling him toaccount for his life; “Then how should I begin / To spit out all the butt-endsof my days and ways?” The mental image of being “. . . pinned and wriggling onthe wall” suggests that Prufrock is terrified of the time when he will be heldaccountable.
(Although at the earliest reading these lines may not appear tohave any profound meaning, in light of the overall context of the poem thisinterpretation has sufficient validity. ) His neurosis makes him the master ofhis own hell. As unorthodox as these views on Prufrock may be, there arecredible sources that substantiate the above theories. Prufrock’sconcentration on physical concerns is highlighted in several quotes: “Wantingnothing less than the ability to fully articulate and control an image ofhimself, Prufrock is afraid of both himself and others. (McNamara, 203),”Prufrock is bothered by the women’s opinion of his appearance.
. . he ismerely hoping that by conforming to the standards expected by society he may beable to keep the backbiting women at bay. ” (Bagshee, 192) Literary support forPrufrock’s mental state of both anxiety and emotional denial is overwhelming.
There is “. . . the real sense of isolation, of loneliness, that exists under thesurface.
” (Bagchee, 187) The quotes “It is as if his mind were graduallyconvulsed with spasms of suffering and then were intermittently rallied with amythology of self-esteem, only to succumb each time to more rational despair. “(Smith, 220) and “. . . this sinister, slithering, and self-willed street is anactive agent of the anxiety that haunts the protagonist.
” (Bagshee, 191) paintthe dark picture of a disconsolate man. “The self and the self-image can nevercoincide. . .
and the result is an interminable anxiety which can onlyincrease. ” (Ayers, 212) Robert McNamara describes Prufrock’s pathologyperfectly when he asserts: “Prufrock” treats the disease in the only wayEliot acknowledged it could be treated: ?the only cure for Romanticism is toanalyze it. ‘ Rhetoric is pathological, in Eliot’s view, when it becomesvehicle for evading feeling for creating self-satisfying illusions. Thisis exactly what Prufrock does.
His over-analysis of every minute detail is avain attempt to shirk the “question. ” “Surely the “overwhelmingquestion” is there in the poem. . .
” (Dyson, 184) “In his absurd andpointless life the encounter with this question is likely to be the onlysignificant thing to happen to Prufrock. . . The point of the intersection betweentime and eternity. .
. So far his life has been far from remarkable and he knowsthat. . .
Prufrock needs something that is infinite. ” (Bagshee, 192) The fear ofbeing accountable for a wasted, superficial life is the reason he has difficultyconfronting the ultimate question. T. S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J.
Alfred Prufrock”, has challenged me to explore the frontiers of my emotions. With delight I consumed each line in hope of a deeper discovery. I am thankfulto have had the opportunity to study such a profound poet. This process willbetter equip me with essential.