The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Essay
1266 Words6 Pages
T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is an ironic depiction of a man’s inability to take decisive action in a modern society that is void of meaningful human connection. The poem reinforces its central idea through the techniques of fragmentation, and through the use of Eliot’s commentary about Prufrock’s social world. Using a series of natural images, Eliot uses fragmentation to show Prufrock’s inability to act, as well as his fear of society. Eliot’s commentary about Prufrock’s social world is also evident throughout. At no point in the poem did Prufrock confess his love, even though it is called “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, but through this poem, T.S. Eliot voices his social commentary about the world that…show more content…
The city is fragmented in itself, with a population that is lost and alone, a scattered collection of "Streets that follow like a tedious argument" (8) above which "lonely men in shirt-sleeves" (72) lean out of their isolated windows. Eliot achieves fragmentation through the use of imagery, in both specific as well as symbolic.
Images and allusions aren’t Prufrock’s only fragmented features though; Eliot also uses the rhythm, and the rhyme is irregular throughout this poem. Throughout the poem, the rhyming schemes differ and constantly changed and evolved. There are instances when it is an unrhymed free verse, and instances where it would go for a longer period of time, then to shorter periods. The rhyme scheme creates a chaotic feeling, as well as feelings of disorganization and confusion, just as the world Prufrock resides in, and it does a good job portraying the anxiety that is rooted in the social world. He is afraid to confront those talking pointlessly about Michelangelo as well as he is intimidated by the thought of engaging in a gathering, believing that “there will be time” (23), and that he has "time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions", indicating that his life and his social life is a bore, with repetitive routines that remains the same. Prufrock’s constant worrying is also shown in not merely the
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is in part a satire. Its character is not the hero of romance but an antihero, one constrained by fear. He spends much of the poem contemplating what to him is to be a daring act, but is in fact only the effort to talk to women at a social event. The very name Prufrock is suggestive; the first syllable suggests the word “prude” without the final consonant, while a “frock” is a garment that would have been considered overly formal by young people of Eliot’s generation.
The urban setting for the poem is itself also the object of satire. The sunset at the beginning of the evening is not inspiring but instead is dormant, “like a patient etherized upon a table.” The streets through which the two will pass is full of cheap, sordid hotels and filthy restaurants. The twentieth century city is not a place of dreams.
The description of the social event suggests something shallow and superficial, where people show off their knowledge of art. The only details given are the women’s bare arms and long dresses, talk of Michelangelo and perhaps unnamed novels, and refreshments. Prufrock is vaguely aware of the contrast between the superficial, perhaps privileged world he is about to enter and the bleak, urban landscape outside: In the former, people have the leisure for superficial talk, while in the latter, “lonely men in shirtsleeves” are perhaps tired from work. Prufrock is too self-centered, too concerned with how he might impress the women he will see, to reflect on the desperation of the “muttering retreats”; the “yellow smoke” (clearly smog) might well be toxic to many, but to Prufrock it is vaguely something like a friendly cat.
Prufrock exaggerates his dilemma. He wishes to speak to women, he is vaguely attracted to them sexually, but he is afraid. This might be a “crisis” for a young man looking for a prom date, but Prufrock is old enough to have a bald spot in his hair and to fear growing “old.” Part of the poem’s irony comes from its allusions to the poetic and literary traditions that Eliot knows. The preface from Dante’s Inferno quotes a false counselor in Hell who will tell his crime only to those he thinks will keep it a secret. Prufrock, too, would not want his story known—he wants to create “a face to meet the faces that you meet”—but what he has to hide is trivial. A topic he might raise in conversation is an “overwhelming question.”
Prufrock momentarily compares himself to John the Baptist, the prophet who announces the good news of Christ’s coming and who is finally killed, with his head brought on a platter. Later, he compares himself to Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Christ. He also briefly thinks of Hamlet, whose “overwhelming question” involves taking the word of what seems to be his father’s ghost and avenging his murder by killing a king. Prufrock realizes that the best he can do in Shakespeare’s play is to be Polonius, who talks too much, annoys everyone, and is finally killed by accident when he is eavesdropping on Hamlet and his mother.
In the final lines of the poem, Prufrock is tempted to compare himself to Ulysses, since the mermaids “singing each to each” suggest the sirens Ulysses hears in Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614), but he quickly reflects that “I do not think that they will sing to me.”