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 the fear of aging he has. The poemdeals with the aging
and fears associated with it of the narrator.
Prufrock is not confident with himself mentally or his appearance. He
is terrified of what will occur when people see his balding head or his
slim and aging body. He believes everyone will think he is old and
useless. They will talk about him behind his back.
(They will say”How is hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple
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 self esteem affects his love life greatly. The
woman he is in love with is younger than he is 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 it’s crisis?”(79-80) His apprehensiveness in his
love life, is very troublesome for him indeed. He wishes greatly 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 their place and did not vary from
that. Stereotypes of groups were lived up to and nobody tried to change
it. 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
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 Shakespear’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, fears he is looking like a
fool. This is the conclusion he comes to in order to decide to accept
his place in society and live life the way he should.
Eliot uses the reference of time often 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 therefor had time for considering life 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
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 is still a misfit because of a little characteristic he can
do nothing about. Age kills us all, but for Prufrock it has already