Prufrock Drowns in a Sea of Insecurity

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In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," T. S. Eliot reveals the silent insecurity of a man, for whom the passing of time indicates the loss of virility and confidence. Throughout the poem, Prufrock struggles with his fear of inadequacy, which surfaces socially, physically and romantically. The desire to ask some "overwhelming question," of the one he wants is outweighed by his diffidence, reinforcing his belief in his shortcomings. Ultimately, this poem is the internal soliloquy of someone who attempts to know what he wants and how to get it, but whose social paralysis and lack of self-assuredness prevents either of these possibilities. Eliot begins the poem with an epigraph from Dante's Inferno. "If I thought that my reply would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would remain without further movement; but as no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can answer you with no fear of infamy," ( These words, spoken to Dante, signify an important aspect of Eliot's poem--Prufrock's confused vacillation and neurotic ambiguity are entirely contained within his own mind, allowing them to occur without concern for the reaction of peers. Eliot chooses to emphasize the insecure nature of his character Prufrock throughout the text, exemplified in his self-questioning, "Do I dare…to turn back and ascend the stair, with a bald spot in the middle of my hair—they will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!'" This concern over social perception strengthens the importance of the introductory message: Prufrock is desperately afraid of being rejected, and if he thought that his nervous wonderings would be heard by "someone who would return to Earth", or could repeat them to others, he would abandon them completely and "remain without further movement;" but as no one has ever heard these thoughts, he can think them freely "with no fear of infamy." Prufrock's ‘love song' begins with a barrage of imagery that connotes an unfulfilled desire. He and his yet unidentified company, presumably the love interest later addressed in the poem, go "through certain half deserted streets…that follow like a tedious argument with insidious intent," while recounting "restless nights in one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells." The memories of oysters and nights spent together juxtapose the cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the poem-- a reasonable desire and pursuit of happiness, with an inevitable realization of inadequacy. This inadequacy is Prufrock's ultimate fear. The "patient etherized upon a table" represents Prufrock wanting to divulge his secret desires to his companion, but being prevented from doing so by his own woeful insecurities. Eliot continues first by introducing a couplet that is repeated later in the poem. The repetitions of "the women [who] come and go talking of Michelangelo" signify the social life lead by Prufrock. These women are seen again later in the poem, but are then also representing the seemingly slowed yet continuous flow of time outside one's own thoughts. "The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes…and curled about the house and fell asleep" is another repeated image in the poem. The personification of the fog allows for a direct association to be made by the reader, and yet only certain parts of the fog have been personified, "its back, its muzzle, its tongue." This provides what seems to be an incomplete description, hollowing the ‘character' and weakening the association. The tactic of relating only selected parts is also used when discussing people elsewhere in the poem, including the woman of whom Prufrock is so fond and even Prufrock himself. After a slow and melancholy tone has been established, Prufrock confidently proclaims, "And indeed there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create;...
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