In his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T.S. Eliot subtly conveys a wide variety of Prufrock’s emotions; he creates pathos for the speaker by employing the “objective correlative,” which Eliot defines as “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events [that] shall be the formula of that particular emotion” (“Hamlet and His Problems”).
The first stanza introduces Prufrock’s isolation, as epitomized metaphorically by “half-deserted streets” (4): while empty streets imply solitude, Eliot’s diction emphasize Prufrock having been abandoned by the other “half” needed for a relationship or an “argument” (8). Hoping for a companion, Prufrock speaks to the reader when saying, “Let us go then, you and I” (1), as he needs to address his lament to an audience; conscious of the reader’s curiosity regarding the “overwhelming question,” (10) Prufrock answers, “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’” (11). (The likely explanation for Eliot’s inconsistent use of you in this stanza is Prufrock probably meaning you as “To lead one,” as he refers to himself and not the reader in line 10.) Eliot continues the metaphor of Prufrock’s lonesomeness by anthropomorphizing the “yellow fog” and “smoke” (15, 16) to signify Prufrock, who interacts not with people, but only the environment in the third, fourth, and fifth stanzas. Clearly it is Prufrock who “rubs [his] muzzle on the window-panes” (15, 16), passively lets “fall upon [his] back the soot that falls from chimneys” (19), “slides along the street” (24), and performs the actions also described; also, the opacity of “fog” and “smoke” symbolizes the difficulty with which readers perceive Prufrock’s true character, further separating ...
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...ers/you make of them,” (37-9); Prufrock defines his misfortune by women, just as King Lear, also called “fool,” attributes his madness to women (his daughters). Reminiscent of Hamlet and Lear asking for the procreation of men like themselves to end , Prufrock thus speaks for all people like himself when he sentences those limited by inaction to death.
Most likely intentional, the entire poem can be considered a metaphysical conceit designed to create pathos: Eliot uses the extended metaphor of Prufrock not acting, except mentally, and thus dying alone as the objective correlative for Prufrock’s anxiety of choice and consequent despair.
Eliot, T.S.. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: Norton, 1996.
Pinion, F. B. A T.S. Eliot Companion. Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1986.
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