Love Song Of Prufrock In his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Eliot explores the timeless issues of love and self-awareness – popular themes in literature. 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 turmoil 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 isn’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.. most likely he doesn’t because he also repeats the question “Do I dare?’ and, Do I dare?'”(38). Possibly, he’s asking if he should 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 overwhelming 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” while “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 feelings 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 es …