The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Poem Analysis
“You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself” (Nelson Mandela). Throughout the course of life, individuals often look to find their purpose and vocation. People ponder their life choices and contemplate whether they can make their life hold some type of significance. As a result, individuals often find themselves lost amid this quest for purpose. Reflection on the past frequently results in doubt in oneself and further complicates an individual’s vocation. Additionally, society holds the ability to greatly affect the course of one’s life and an individual’s views towards themselves and their personal abilities. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” highlights the uneventful love life of the fictional character, J. Alfred Prufrock. Prufrock often finds himself doubting the significance of his past and feels as if his life has gone to waste. As Prufrock’s time slowly ticks away, chaos ensues, and a dire need for change arises. However, Prufrock continuously encounters conflicts brought upon both from himself and the surrounding society. Prufrock must find the power within himself to overcome difficulties and self-doubt and ultimately discover significance in his own presence. In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, T.S. Eliot conveys the restrictions society imposes on the fulfillment of life through an emerging lack of confidence and stability, inundate views and stereotypes, and the ineptitude to take any action.
Initially, it appears evident that the author exemplifies the limitations society places on the fulfillment of life, as J. Alfred Prufrock often examines his insecurities and doubts his capabilities. For example, as J. Alfred Prufrock ponders his love life, he claims that he must “turn back and descend the stair, / With a bald spot in the middle of my hair” (Eliot 39-40). Evidently, Prufrock worries about his physical appearance and believes that this will impact his ability to find purpose in life due to the judgements and views of the outside community. He threatens to “turn back and descend the stair” exemplifying his proximity to giving up and maintaining the uneventful lifestyle that he possesses. Furthermore, Prufrock analyzes his time spent in the universe, wondering if he has made it worthwhile, as he has “seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter” (82). Prufrock once again mentions his physical appearance as he speaks about his balding head. This repetition emphasizes the weight that Prufrock’s insecurities place on his actions and overall course of life. The reference to John the Baptist’s head “brought in upon a platter” compares himself to John the Baptist, only to appear insufficient once again. In addition, with Prufrock’s time progressively ticking away he believes that “I grow old… I grow old… / I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled” (120-121). As time passes, Prufrock wonders if he should change himself to please others and fit in with the crowd. He feels that the course of action he has taken thus far has not fulfilled his life in the correct manner. Although Prufrock’s insecurities play a large role in the restrictions of the fulfillment of his life, many other factors prevail.
Not only does J. Alfred Prufrock possess a great deal of self-doubt and diffidence due to the external influences of society, but he also fosters erroneous ideas concerning women, keeping him from living a gratified life. For instance, as Prufrock debates whether or not he could find love with a prostitute, he finally decides that “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo” (13-14). Prufrock believes that all women only devote their attention to perfect men, undermining the views of women through a false statement. Clearly, Michelangelo sculpted the statue of David, which holds significance as the perfect image of a man. Similar to Prufrock’s self-comparison to John the Baptist, his comparison to the perfect statue of David fabricates a feeling of inferiority. Additionally, as Prufrock comes to the conclusion that his attempts to construct a relationship often result adversely, he claims that “I have known them all already, known them all— / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons” (49-50). This depicts Prufrock’s failure to successfully find love throughout his life. He continuously features his nearness to surrendering a satisfied life and retaining a life of failure and dissatisfaction. Moreover, as J. Alfred Prufrock’s hopes and desires to find a woman begin to elude, he turns to fictional characters in mermaids, however he still claims that “I do not think that they will sing to me” (125). This demonstrates yet another instance in which Prufrock begins to lose hope, in fear of what others may think about him. Prufrock allows the views of society to take advantage of his personal weaknesses, keeping him from living the life that he truly wants. These weaknesses only lead to further issues for Prufrock, as he struggles to overcome them single-handedly.
Besides proving faulty assumptions and stereotyping superficial relationships, the author also employs the inability the take action, in fear of the judgements and unfavorable perceptions of the surrounding society. To demonstrate, Prufrock’s past “failures” in life begin to take a toll on his emotional state, as he begins to fear change and asks himself, “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” (45-46). Due to his inability to make change within his life to benefit himself, Prufrock leaves himself with an insufficient life. Society has too great of an impact on Prufrock’s decisions, leading to his ultimate failure to take any action. Subsequently, the author frequently uses repetition in order to emphasize J. Alfred Prufrock’s failure to act towards the fulfillment of his life as he asks himself, “So how should I presume?” (54). Prufrock begins to find himself in a state of misplacement and absence. He increasingly loses the vision of a fulfilled life and accepts the lifestyle that he has lived thus far. Evidently, Prufrock does not know how to continue with his life and continues to search for his vocation as he loses hope. Further, as Prufrock begins to realize his impotence towards a fulfilling life, he compares himself to a shellfish, claiming that “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” (73-74). Prufrock once again compares himself to something, but this time a shellfish, rather than a human. He compares his efforts with women throughout his life to the mating habits of shellfish. Shellfish act as a role model for Prufrock, as they simply act, rather than thinking or speaking.
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” demonstrates how a societal takeover leads to the stagnation of progress concerning one’s life through an emerging lack of confidence and stability, inundate views and stereotypes, and the ineptitude to take any action. J. Alfred Prufrock allows the surrounding society to take over his life and keep him to changing himself, in fear of judgment. The story of Prufrock exemplifies the consequences of avoiding individualism and focusing on the opinions of others. Deciphering Prufrock’s issues allows the reader to prevent themselves from repeating the errors and faults that Prufrock faces. A consequential message emerges from Prufrock’s dismay: society holds the power to alter individuals’ personal beliefs and actions. As a result, individuals must learn to think for themselves and eventually experience a notable existence that leaves long term effects on society.