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T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is a poem which enters the dynamic consciousness of its title character, whose feelings, thoughts and emotions are displayed in a motley but organized sequence, as they ride the man's wavering mood. His is a mood wavering more often towards haplessness than fulfillment, because Prufrock is a man caught in a vicious cycle of introspection, journey, and retreat. More specifically, J. Alfred Prufrock, as developed by Eliot, is a man experiencing a mid life crisis, brought about by society, and sustained by his own fear and reluctance.
Throughout his "song," Prufrock questions himself. He does so not after a performed action, nor during, but nearly always before. Seemingly inbred in him is the tendency to think deeply into everything he does, so that the consequences of his actions may not attract the attention of a society he sees constantly lurking behind him. Nervous and fearful of this hovering critic, Prufrock finds himself considerably shaken by life actions as simple as descending a staircase.
A task considered perfunctory and performed without conflict by others, Prufrock, when atop the staircase asks himself, "'Do I dare?' and 'Do I Dare?'"(Eliot 811). His reluctance comes with the response to the question, which Prufrock in his self-consciousness answers for society, answering, "(They will say: 'How his hair is growing thin!') and "('But how his arms and legs are thin!'." Prufrock's conflict thus arises because in his consciousness it is not the end of the stairs which await him as he stands at the top, but a society crouched in the shadows and poised to attack.
Henceforth, the cycle is revealed; Prufrock professes an intention, hesitates in paranoia at the prospect of achieving it, and then retreats into self consciousness upon contemplating what society would think of him, and his 'thinning hair' as he did it. This fact incites one to wonder if Prufrock, who repeatedly asks himself, "And how should I presume?" is trapped by and within his own mind, as it continues to engage in the aforementioned cycle. It is within this 'thinning hair' and these 'thin arms and legs' where Prufrock's inhibitions, and consequently the crises he finds himself in, are rooted. Only a man in a mid-life crisis could be so shaken by a bald spot, so unnerved by silent comments aimed at his 'thin arms and legs' (which leads one to envision his torso to be the opposite) by a society which fuels its oppression of Prufrock with his own self-consciousness.
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