Essay on The Character of J. Alfred Prufrock

T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” reveals the unvoiced inner thoughts of a disillusioned, lonely, insecure, and self-loathing middle-aged man. The thoughts are presented in a free association, or stream of consciousness style, creating images from which the reader can gain insight into Mr. Prufrock’s character. Mr. Prufrock is disillusioned and disassociated with society, yet he is filled with longing for love, comfort, and companionship. He is self-conscious and fearful of his image as viewed through the world’s eye, a perspective from which he develops his own feelings of insignificance and disgust. T. S. Eliot uses very specific imagery to build a portrait of Mr. Prufrock, believing that mental images provide insight where words fail.

The poem begins by suggesting that Mr. Prufrock is mentally disassociated with society. Mr. Prufrock, addressing the audience or some imaginary confidante, proposes the mental journey commence “When the evening is spread out against the sky Like a patient etherised [sic] upon a table” (ll. 2-3). The lines evoke images of drug induced, altered realities. He follows by recommending visits to “one-night cheap hotels” (l. 6) and “sawdust restaurants” (l. 7). The references infer that the locations are not the speaker’s normal environments and are part of fantasy environments. In lines 15 through 22, the speaker credits the smog with feline characteristics. He further states “Though I have seen my head […] brought in upon a platter…” (l. 81). Although it is a biblical reference to the decapitation of John the Baptist, the statement is indicative of an active fantasy life. He admits to having heard mermaids sing and speaks of life on a beach. He creates the fanta…

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…r than to be some lower form of life (l. 73-74). Even in Mr. Prufrock’s fantasy world at the beach, he acknowledges that he doesn’t expect even the mermaids to sing to him (l. 125). He is unworthy in both worlds.

The title T. S. Eliot chose for his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is ironic. Mr. Prufrock does not love anyone, nor does he believe he is loved. He has disdain for the society of which he wishes he were a part, and he believes society views him no differently. The imagery of Mr. Prufrock’s thoughts provide the audience a more detailed insight into his character than had Mr. Eliot simply listed Mr. Prufrock’s virtues and flaws. Mr. Prufrock is seen as an exaggeration or extreme for the sake of literary commentary, but the world has many Prufrocks in many differing degrees, and T. S. Eliot has made them a little easier to understand.


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