T.S Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is an examination of human insecurity and folly, embodied in the title's J. Alfred Prufrock. Eliot's story of a man's "overwhelming question", his inability to ask it, and consequently, his mental rejection plays off the poem's many ambiguities, both structural and literal. Eliot uses these uncertainties to develop both the plot of the poem and the character of J. Alfred Prufrock.
The poem's setting is one that conjures up images of vagueness. It is filled with "yellow fog" and "yellow smoke", both of which suggest a certain denseness and haziness. Similarly, Prufrock is faced with another kind of mist - "perfume from a dress (65) that sends him back into his spiral of insecurity.
The importance of Prufrock's "overwhelming question" (presumably, proposing to a woman) is placed alongside items such as "tea and cakes and ices (79)" and various other trivialities such as novels, teacups, marmalade and "skirts that trail across the floor(102)". Prufrock's inner, mental world of thoughts and questions is divided from his outer, physical world which is composed of material objects; it is ironic then, that the material world inside the room is the one that is hidden by "...yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes/The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window pane (15-16)". Prufrock is trapped in this artificial world, however he is too afraid to escape - he asks himself if he dares "to disturb the universe"; and apparently, he doesn't.
The poem is also ambiguous regarding the identity of Prufrock's audience. Prufrock refers clearly to a "you and I" in the first stanzas of the poem but later...
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... he feels uncomfortable with Hamlet's "Prince" and the qualities associated with it.
J. Alfred Prufrock is a tragic figure in his own right; indecision being his tragic flaw. Eliot's character is a compelling portrait of insecurity, trapped in a rigid and materialistic environment by his own doubts and fears and unable to reconcile his desires with his actions.
Works Cited and Consulted
Eliot, T. S.. "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock." Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and Writers. 2nd Ed. Schlib & Clifford. Boston: Bedford, 2003. 851-855.
Pinion, F. B. A T.S. Eliot Companion. Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1986.
Sharma, Jitendra Kumar. Time & T.S. Eliot: His Poetry, Plays, and Philosophy. New York: Apt Books, INC. 1985.
Spurr, David. Conflicts in Consciousness: T.S. Eliot’s Poetry & Criticism. Urbana: U of Illinois P. 1984.
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