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: The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock

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The Love Song 
J. Alfred Prufrock


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. 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 his fear of aging. The poem deals with these fears.

Prufrock feels unsure about himself. He is terrified of what will occur when people see his balding head or his aging body. He believes everyone will think he is old and useless. They will talk about him behind his back. (They will say "How his 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!"] 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 inadequacy in communicating with the people around him.

J. Alfred Prufrock's lack of self esteem, also affects his love life. The woman he is in love with is younger than he, 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 its crisis?"(79-80) His apprehensiveness in his love life, is very troublesome for him indeed. He very much wants to express his affection but it becomes suppressed within him. He compares himself to Lazarus who was an aged man restored to life by Jesus. He feels that it will take a miracle to make him feel young again. Prufrock sees his age as the end of his romantic zeal. 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 depicts the disenchanted 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.

Elliot wrote this poem in a time when social customs were still considered an issue. Everyone had his/her place and did not stray from that. Stereotypes of groups were lived up to and nobody tried to change them. Elliot uses blatant 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 Shakespeare's 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"(111) He feels he is more like Polonius an old attendant to Lord Hamlet who is intelligent, wise, and eager to please. Prufrock decides he is diplomatic, conscientious, and strives for perfection; however, at the same time he tends to lack some sort of mental power and fears he is looking like a fool. This is the conclusion he reaches in order to decide to accept his place in society and live life the way he should.

Eliot frequently uses the reference of time 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 was accepted that aging people did not work and therefore had time to ponder about and other aspects of their existence. "And Indeed there will be time To wonder, Do I dare? and, Do I Dare?"  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.

In Elliot'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. Elliot'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 feels that he is a misfit because he is getting older. Age kills us all, but for Prufrock it has already killed him. 

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