Impotent, pathetic, inadequate, timid. Everyone knows a J. Alfred Prufrock, and everyone has a bit of him in himself or herself. Just like Prufrock we readers have been witness to the pretentious triviality of others, the women who "come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo" (lines 13-14), and the lack of confidence which prevents the realization of desires. Eliot's careful choice of epigraph from Dante's Inferno reverberates throughout this poem as the logic behind Prufrock sharing his feelings with his listener. Just as Guido da Montefeltro is certain his listener shares a similar fate as himself, so to does Prufrock believe that his listener is like himself, and will never "turn back and descend the stair" (line 39). Prufrock's insecurities mirror our own. "He is", as Harold Bloom states in his thematic analysis, "insecure about his thinning hair and his attire, paranoid that he is being mocked. For Prufrock `there will be time,' not to experience life, but `to prepare a face,' to pose and to equivocate" (Bloom 18). Eliot's use of literary device such as imagery and repetition in the poem serve to emphasize Prufrock's hesitation, repression of desire, and indecisiveness.
Prufrock's hesitation can be seen primarily in the poet's use of repetition and metaphor. Eliot uses metaphor in the third stanza in which he compares the "yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes" to a cat. While the cat does not symbolize Prufrock, its movements mirror his own, stopping to complete eight separate actions before it curls around the house to sleep. The cat moves with the same caution and hesitation as Prufrock does. The use of the word lingered in the seventeenth line emphasizes this hesitation and foreshadows Prufrock's in the si...
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...th a sense of comfort. As a reader (and sometime writer) I know all too well Prufrock's frustration in line 104, "It is impossible to say just what I mean!" Though I cannot relate to Prufrock in his extreme lack of self confidence, having my meaning understood is a daily struggle. The poem is familiar to me in the indecisiveness of speech. Stanza ten is like, for lack of a better term, a pickup line gone horribly wrong. It is very easy to imagine that the thought in Prufrock's mind was probably very beautiful, but he like so many of us, lacks the skill of logical expression. Ultimately I'd argue his hesitancy, indecision and repression of desire spring from lack of self-expression as much as from fear of rejection.
Bloom, Harold. T.S. Eliot: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide Bloom's major poets. Broomall: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.
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