Poor Prufrock

Upon reading T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, the same theme appeared over and over and over again. J. Alfred Prufrock is a sad, lonely, and self degrading character. But gloomy Prufrock is not just a sad sack.  As he narrates his short story, he lets the reader into his psyche, which speaks of fear of rejection, intense nervousness around people, and a general lack of social grace. 

Firstly, Prufrock is leading us through the seediest parts of town, where brothels, cheap restaurants, and arguments abound. He makes mention of the dim yellow smoke or fog that seems to pervade everything through out the day. Prufrock is in an environment seemingly created to get one down in the dumps and keep one there. He meanders through these streets to call on friends or acquaintances. Prufrock’s anxiety and depression seem to go hand in hand with his negative urban environment, causing him to stay stuck in his humdrum, melancholy state (Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health).

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Prufrock moves on from the setting to discuss how there is always time “for a hundred indecisions / And for a hundred visions and revisions / Before the taking of a toast and tea” (University of Virginia). The character is so dreadfully indecisive, and apparently seems to battle with himself constantly! Prufrock considers approaching a woman, but again loses his nerve, and escapes from the situation via the stairs. In addition to his habit of indecisiveness, poor Prufrock’s physical appearance is not the to the ladies’ liking. Prufrock makes note of his tasteful clothing and well kept appearance, only to be laughed at for his thin appendages and bald spot. A man in his middle age, it is obvious that Prufrock is more than uncomfortable with his effect on the ladies. He merely wants to be accepted, and though he strives to meet societal standards, he falls just short of where he needs to be J. Alfred Prufrock seems to suffer from social anxiety, as he feels criticized, and as if he will be humiliated by others. The man’s lack of social skills also seem to add to his nervous, distorted thinking (Web MD).

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To continue his theme of being uncomfortable in his own skin, J. Alfred fixates on the “eyes” of society. He feels incredibly judged and inspected by his fellow man, and states that while he is “pinned and wriggling on the wall” that he could not possibly think of proper conversation (Bartleby). Prufrock attempts to brainstorm a suitable topic for the discussion with the ladies in his company, yet decides he would rather exist as a crab, in essence a scavenger who lives deep beneath the other creatures in its habitat (National Geographic). Prufrock has denied himself even equality with his fellow man, feeling as if it would be better to be below, in the muck and lower society, where he can live unnoticed. Prufrock’s fancying himself as a person below his class realizes itself when he pictures his rejection by a woman as she turns away from his conversation. He cannot live up to her expectations, something he has come to grips with in the earlier stanza when the women mock his shortcomings. 

J. Alfred Prufrock’s lack of confidence is furthered by his lack of faith in the worthiness of his cause in appealing to women. He lists the things he attempts to achieve or to participate in, all in vain as the females of his society completely ignore him. He believes himself a minor character in the play of life, happy when someone pays the slightest of attention to him, yet as he ages, he learns that this fruitless quest to please everyone but himself has taken a great toll on him that he shall pay with his life in the end. He could not think of conversation, felt watched at all times by all sides, and was forced to be lacklustre in his oppressive settings. Poor, pathetic Prufrock is a victim of social anxiety and depression yet he does not seek out others to heal that rift between himself and society. He avoids the situations that make him feel uncomfortable, scorning any notion of goodness for himself yet he knows they can exist for others. This idea of pitiful Mr. Prufrock reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel’s song, “I am a Rock”, and it is very easy to imagine J. Alfred connecting with the lyrics as they evoke the same feelings he has described in the poem.

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About literaryloudmouth

As a double major of history and English, I'm always seeking out the patterns, parallels and particular opinions of the stories I hear, read or see. I've lived all over the continental US, and plan to travel the world one day, writing, teaching, and learning all I can. I'm a literary loudmouth, opinonated and hopefully well informed! I can't wait to blog about the upcoming literature of this class.

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