Prufrock: a Homosexual in Hiding

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Shawn Ware

Prufrock: A Homosexual in Hiding
T.S Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a dramatic monologue in which the speaker of the poem, Prufrock, takes the reader on a journey into his inner psyche. Many literary and poetic experts have studied and dissected the persona that is Prufrock to help show the complexities that compose him. But how does one begin to shed light on this mysterious man? Before actually delving into the words spoken by Prufrock, it is beneficial to take a look at the author of the poem, T.S. Eliot, as well as the epigraph Eliot quotes at the preface of his poem. By understanding every aspect of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” from the author and the use of allusions and themes within his writings, to the epigraph, to the actual poem, one can see the entire portrait of the man that is Prufrock: a man struggling with homosexuality. Eliot undoubtedly is one of the greatest and most complex poets of our time. As stated by Donald Fryxell, all of Eliot’s poems are complex, never simple: oftentimes, they are concentrated pieces of intellectual and emotional conflicts that are written either as dramatic monologues, like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” or dramatic lyrics (33-34). Eliot’s poems are complex because he extensively uses allusions to deal with complex emotions and ideas. The use, and sometimes even overuse, of these allusions make deciphering the meaning of his poems like solving a “literary crossword puzzle” (Fryxell 34). As James Knapp points out, even Eliot himself justified the use of such allusions by stating; “a poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate, if necessary, language into his poem” (Eliot qtd by Knapp 6). With this being said, when reading Eliot’s poetry, one must keep these ideas in mind and remember, never take anything at face value. If something seems simple, it probably is not. Keeping in mind when decoding Eliot’s poetry nothing is quite what it seems, one should also take into account common themes present throughout other writings authored by Eliot. One theme that seems to be prevalent in many of Eliot’s writings is one of homosexuality and homoeroticism. Works that provide ample evidence of Eliot’s lifelong fascination with the homoerotic include “The Little Passion,” “The Burnt Dancer,” “The Love Song of St. Sebastian’” The Waste Land as well as the obscene Columbo verses he [Eliot] inserts in letters to a male friend (Churchill 8-9). Though there is not time to completely dive into all of Eliot’s writings, I will, however, give insight into a couple of these works to prove this underlying theme Eliot uses in his writings. One personal letter Eliot writes to his friend Conrad Aiken, as noted in Suzanna Churchill’s article “Outing T.S. Eliot,” includes the passage: “The great need is to know one’s own mind, and I don’t know that: whether I want to get married and have a family, and live in America all my life, and compromise and conceal my opinions and forfeit my independence for the sake of my children’s future; or save my money and retire at fifty to a table on the boulevard, regarding the world placidly through the fumes of an aperitif at 5 p.m.” (Eliot qtd by Churchill 9). In this passage, Churchill argues that Eliot himself “emerges as a psychosexually conflicted man, torn and tormented by the conventional demands” (9). Why does Churchill believe this? Let us recall the previous notion that Eliot tends to write cryptically and when reading his writings, nothing is as simple as it may seem. In his letter to Aiken, Eliot depicts a life in America with a wife and kids, a heterosexual existence, for which he loses his independence and he will be forced to “compromise and conceal” himself and his opinions. He then describes another life choice, retiring early in life at a “table on the boulevard,” purposely leaving out the heterosexual lifestyle with a wife and kids...
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