• Category: English
  • Words: 1795
  • Grade: 100
The speaker of this ironic monologue is a modern, urban man who, like many of his kind, feels isolated and incapable of decisive action. Irony is apparent from the title, for this is not a conventional love song. Prufrock would like to speak of love to a woman, but he does not dare.

The poem opens with a quoted passage from Dante's INFERNO, suggesting that Prufrock is one of the damned and that he speaks only because he is sure no one will listen. Since the reader is overhearing his thoughts, the poem seems at first rather incoherent. But Prufrock repeats certain phrases and returns to certain core ideas as the poem progresses. The "you and I" of the opening line includes the reader, suggesting that only by accompanying Purfrock can one understand his problems.

The images of the opening lines depict a drab neighborhood of cheap hotels and restaurants, where Prufrock lives in solitary gloom. In line 12 he suggests making a visit, and immediately his mind calls up an image of the place he and the reader will go-- perhaps an afternoon tea at which various women drop in and engage in polite chitchat about Michelangelo, who was a man of great creative energy, unlike Prufrock.

The next stanza creates an image of the dull, damp autumn evening when the tea party will take place. In the rest of the poem Prufrock imagines his arrival, his attempt to converse intimately with the woman whose love he seeks, and his ultimate failure to make her understand him. Prufrock has attended such parties many times and knows how it will be, and this knowledge makes him hesitate out of fear that any attempt to push beyond mere polite conversation, to make some claim on the woman's affections, will meet with a frustratingly polite refusal.

So Prufrock simultaneously plans his approach and tells himself that he can put off the action. The phrase "There will be time," repeated five times between lines 23 and 36, represents his hesitation and delay. When he says in lines 44 and 45 "Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?," the universe he is referring to is his small social circle of middle-class acquaintances. He would disturb its equilibrium if he actually tried to sing a "love song" to one of them. He already "knows them all" and knows that they do not expect much from him. He tries, starting at line 70, to rehearse a speech he might make to one particular woman, but he gives up almost as soon as he has started, saying that it would be better to be merely a crab rather than a human being who has to make love speeches and ask for affection.

Deciding not to try, Prufrock questions whether his efforts would have been worthwhile. He excuses his fear by rationalizing that his speaking to the woman would not have achieved any real response. In line 110 Prufrock contrasts himself to Hamlet, a hero who hesitated but finally acted decisively. But Prufrock sees himself as more like Polonius, the old fool from the same play. Prufrock will retreat into a solitary, dignified old age. He has gone past dreams of romance into the sober but empty existence of a passionless old man.


For many readers in the 1920s, Prufrock seemed to epitomize the frustration and impotence of the modern individual. He seemed to represent thwarted desires and modern disillusionment. Such phrases as "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons" (line 51) capture the sense of the unheroic nature of life in the twentieth century. Prufrock's weaknesses could be mocked, but he is a pathetic figure, not grand enough to be tragic.

The Unneccessary Comlexity of Life Revealed in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Kapil Rajwani, Junior

T.S. Eliot in his poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," has made a case for the unnecessary complexity of life. A complexity which has been created by society and continues to fool society to an extent where people do not realize it. Everything that exists, all the way down to the necktie, is a facade, a mask whereby people hide from each other.

J. Alfred Prufrock thinks to himself how his necktie is "rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin," a clear reference to society and its ideals. The necktie is shown as expensive and beautiful, yet underneath it all, holding it up, is something simple. The foundations of life are built on a simple structure, yet are masked by a simple structure.

Prufrock thinks how the people at the party will look at his thin arms and legs, which are but a cover for the true person behind, or inside the body. People judge others by their looks, and do not go beyond, for society is so blinded by its own facades, that they cannot break through. Also Prufrock's hair is another example of the covers put on by society. Prufrock thinks to comb his hair back so he would not look bald, for the true sight of his empty head is unsightly to others for they are used to the facade of hair to cover up what is really there.

Finally, an outstanding line in the poem that does not fit in with the rest of the poem, exists as a universal reminder of the covers people put on. "In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo." The coming and going and going and talking seem so simple and common, yet the women, to seem sophisticated, talk of Michelangelo. Michelangelo, such a great artist cannot be talked about as the women seem to be doing. The first part of the lines exist to show the commonality in society, yet the last part clashes and shows how an unfitting disguise is used to achieve a level which can only be achieved through the common side of people.

And finally, to what value do these masks exist? As T.S. Eliot writes, the faces people put on can be changed, revised, hundreds of times in only a minute, for their value is nothing, and they exist only for the purpose of vanity, fame, and wealth. These faces are so blinding to society that everything is "tea, and cakes, and ices," and stops them from going these masks and seeing how they are creating a yellow smog.

Commentary on T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Edward Prufrock"

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot is about a timid and downcast man in search of meaning, of love, in search of something to break him from the dullness and superficiality which he feels his life to be. Eliot lets us into Prufrock's world for an evening, and traces his progression of emotion from timidity to self-disparagement and, ultimately, to despair of life. In this "Love Song," Prufrock searches for meaning and acceptance by the love of a woman, but fails miserably because of his lack of self-assurance and because of his mouse-like meekness. Prufrock is a man for whom, it seems, everything goes wrong, and for whom there are no happy allowances. In a very real way, Prufrock's story is twentieth century mankind's story, too. Eliot's "Prufrock" is brilliant commentary on the fallenness, the emptiness, and the final despair of modern individuals.

Prufrock is the anti-archetype of what Man should be -- that is, he is a timid man, a man over-conscious of what others think of him, and, overall, a man who could not spit out what he really wants to say if his life depended on it. Where is frankness? Where is confidence? Where does Prufrock bare his soul for all to see? He does not show his actual self, for he cannot speak from his heart, but instead he "prepare[s] a face to meet the faces that [he] meet[s]" (27). Ironically, the picture Eliot describes seems also to indicate that the other members of Eliot's "universe" are the same way. Just as Prufrock puts on a mask in deference to social customs, so do the others in the scene. Prufrock's "universe" pledges allegiance to some social custom that no one has established, and yet exists anyhow; they are all blind participants. Prufrock also shows that he is very self-conscious of his appearance, with which many modern folk can certainly identify; he anticipates what his audience will think of him: "They will say: "˜How his hair is growing thin!'" (41) Appearance is a matter which causes great consternation for Prufrock, so much so that he wonders whether he dares to "disturb the universe" by making an entrance (46).

The emptiness and the shallowness of Prufrock's "universe" and of Prufrock himself are evident from the very beginning of the poem. The lines "When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherized upon a table" (2-3) suggest a certain lifelessness. Likewise, the women who "come and go / Talking of Michelangelo" (13-14) seem to have nothing better to talk about, for when the women are revisited a few lines down, they are still talking about the same dead artist (35-36).The "yellow fog", which by its color has implications of sourness, "curled once about the house, and fell asleep" (22). Prufrock has already witnessed this dull event many times, saying: "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" (51). The evening "sleeps so peacefully!" (75), cries Prufrock, and perhaps there is a tone of bitterness in his voice. All this shows, in Prufrock's case, the falsity of the elite social existence, which is thought by some to be the pinnacle of social involvement, and, in a broader context, what social life is often like in our era.

The last part of the poem (lines 111 and following) show Prufrock's final despair of life. He cannot find it in himself to tell the woman what he really feels, and when he tries to tell her, it comes out in a mess. Finally, Prufrock realizes that he has no big role in life. He is not "Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be" (111); rather, he is merely an "attendant lord" (112), and sometimes, "the Fool" (119). Prufrock has "heard the mermaids singing" (124), but laments: "I do not think they will sing to me" (125). Prufrock is the quintessential outcast from life. This single statement, set apart from the other lines in the poem, is quite devastating in its impact. The final three lines, where the narrator speaks of the mermaids in the chambers of the deep, reveal the meaning of the entire poem. Prufrock feels he has been living in an imaginary world the whole time, and when reality hits him, that he is merely flotsam in the sea of life, Prufrock drowns, soul and all.
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