Love Song


Love Song Essay, Research Paper

Eliot paints the picture of an insecure man looking for his niche in society.

Prufrock has fallen in with the times, and places a lot of weight on social

status and class to determine his identity. He is ashamed of his personal

appearance and looks towards social advancement as a way to assure himself and

those around him of his worth and establish who he is. Throughout the poem the

reader comes to realize that Prufrock has actually all but given up on himself

and now sees his balding head and realizes that he has wasted his life striving

for an unattainable goal. The beginning of the poem is pre-empted by an excerpt

from Dante’s Inferno which Eliot uses to begin his exploration of Prufrock’s

self-consciousness. By inserting this quote, a parallel is created between

Prufrock and the speaker, Guido da Montefeltro, who is very aware of his

position in "hell" and his inability to escape his fate. Prufrock is

also very aware of his current status but doesn’t realize until the end that he

is unable to rise above it. The issue of his fate leads Prufrock to an

"overwhelming question…"(10) which is never identified, asked, or

answered in the poem. This "question" is somehow associated with his

social status, but both its ambiguity and Prufrock’s denial to even ask

"What is it?"(11) gives some insight into his state of internal

turmoil. Prufrock’s dissatisfaction with his personal appearance is evidence of

an underlying lack of self-confidence. Not only is he unhappy with the way he

looks, having "To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;" but

he is constantly afraid of what others will have to say about him: "(They

will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)"(41) and "(… ‘But how his

arms and legs are thin!’)"(44). Prufrock’s preoccupation with looks shows

how much he is caught up in the social scene and how much his identity is rooted

in what others think of him. Unfortunately, his lack of confidence isn’t limited

to his looks. He’s indecisive and unsuccessful in his attempts to communicate

with other people, repeating "visions and revisions"(33) and

"decisions and revisions…"(48). Eliot uses repetition here to

emphasize Prufrock’s alterations in behavior to please those around him. He

wants to speak out and share his thoughts but doesn’t have the courage saying,

"’Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’"(38). Possibly, he’s asking if he

should dare "and drop a question on your plate."(30) He wants to ask a

lady out but again he can’t get up the nerve to take that step. He is a bit

melodramatic but he realizes the enormity of the odds stacked against him and he

drones, "Do I dare/ Disturb the universe?"(45-46). In this case Eliot

uses hyperbole to show the reader extent of Prufrock’s insecurities. They are

his whole "universe." Once again, Eliot uses the device of ambiguity

to reflect the internal struggle in Prufrock and lead the reader to ask himself

or herself, "What is the ‘overwhelming question’ that Prufrock is

asking?" Unfortunately even Prufrock himself doesn’t exactly have the

answer. His declaration that he isn’t a prophet indicates Prufrock’s view on his

position in society, which he is as confused about as everything else. He isn’t

poor but he doesn’t really fit into the upper class either. Eliot introduces the

idea of Prufrock being caught between the two classes in the very beginning of

the poem, when he juxtaposes the images of "restless nights in one-night

cheap hotels/ And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells"(4-5) with the

women who "come and go Talking of Michelangelo."(13-14). These two

images represent two completely different ways of life. The first image is of a

dingy lifestyle – living among the "half-deserted streets"(4) while

the second is the lifestyle that Prufrock longs to be associated with. It is

much like the image of Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine

chapel where Adam is reaching out to touch God’s finger but can’t quite reach.

While Prufrock doesn’t belong to either of these two classes completely, he does

have characteristics of both. He claims to be "Full of high sentence; but a

bit obtuse" while "At times, indeed, almost ridiculous"(117-118).

Being the outsider that he is, Prufrock will not be accepted by either class;

even though he can clearly make the distinction between the two and recognize

their members: "I know the voices dying with a dying fall/ Beneath the

music from a farther room."(52-53). This Shakespearean suggests that

Prufrock is just out of reach of the group of people that he wishes to be

associated with in life and love, but most likely his feelings of insignificance

prevent him from truly associating with anyone at all. He sees himself as a

unique "specimen" of nature, in a class all by himself – "And

when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin/ When I am pinned and wriggling on the

wall,"(57-58). This image suggests that not only is he an object for

speculation, but he is trapped in that role; a situation which he is obviously

unhappy with but has no idea how to change. He asks himself, "Then how

should I begin"(59). At this point in the poem, Prufrock is beginning to

feel especially detached from society and burdened by his awareness of it. He

thinks "I should have been a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the

floors of silent seas." Eliot not only uses imagery here to create a

picture of a headless crab scuttling around at the bottom of the ocean, but he

uses the form of the poem itself to help emphasize his point here. The head is

detached from the crab, and the lines are detached from the poem in their own

stanza, much like Prufrock wishes his self-consciousness would just

"detach" itself. This concept is echoed in the very next stanza when

he says, "Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in/ upon

a platter,"(83), an allusion to the beheading of John the Baptist. These

two headless images represent Prufrock’s desire to be rid of his

self-consciousness (obviously in his head) and possibly some suicidal tendencies

which can be tied into just about all of the ambiguous questions Prufrock asks

of himself throughout the poem. Prufrock’s series of questions can also be tied

into his unsuccessful attempts at relationships with women. His insecurities

keep him from doing the things he wants to do. He feels inadequate and unable to

express his true feelings to women, "Should I, after tea and cakes and

ices,/ Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?"(79-80). He

knows what he wants to say, but doesn’t have the confidence or mental capacity

to put his feelings into words. He compares himself to Hamlet, "No! I am

not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;"(111), who, in contrast, was able

to express his feelings very successfully to his lover, an ability which

Prufrock is envious of, characterized by his emphatic "No!" He is also

second-guessing himself constantly throughout the poem: "Do I

dare?"(38), "So how should I presume?"(54) and "Then how

should I begin"(59) are all questions Prufrock repeats to himself during

his monologue. His feelings of inadequacy toward women are not only related to

his appearance and lack of mental strength, but his lower social status.

Throughout the poem, Prufrock struggles with the concept of time. He tries to

keep reassuring himself that "indeed there will be time"(23), which

suggests that Prufrock fears that he will in fact not have time for love before

the prime of his life is over. His obsession with the passage of time is

characterized by its repetition throughout the poem, especially near the

beginning. Eliot uses time as a tool to shape Prufrock’s complicated, disturbed

psyche into the form of a mid-life crisis. Prufrock keeps assuring himself that,

"indeed, there will be time" to raise himself socially and thus

overcome his insecurities and establish his identity. However, his insecurities

are tied in with his aging and the passage of time, so he is truly a tragic,

doomed character. This is not to say, however, that Prufrock is unaware of the

connection between time, his aging, and his unsuccessful attempt at a social

life. On the contrary, he claims that he’s "measured out his life with

coffee spoons,"(51) a true testament to the self-proclaimed insignificance

of his life. Prufrock claims that "I have known them all already, known

them all"(49) referring to the "evenings, mornings, and

afternoons"(50) of his life which he has seen pass by, insignificantly and

illustrates both his failure with and fear of women. Prufrock even dreams of

gaining knowledge from the afterlife on how to deal with women saying, "I

am Lazarus, come from the dead,/ Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you

all."(94-95) Unfortunately for Prufrock, he pessimistically assumes that

even if his dream came true, he still wouldn’t know what to tell them all, or

how. Eliot doesn’t give any sense of hope for Prufrock in the poem. He remains a

doomed character until the very end. Prufrock even admits that he has "seen

the moment of my greatness flicker,"(84) He is a victim of time and natural

selection. In the end Prufrock realizes that the life he dreams of is out of his

reach. He still imagines attaining his desired position but realizes that he

isn’t recognized in that world. "I do not think that they will sing to

me." (125) He is in effect a man with no place in society and no identity.

His "overwhelming question" remains unanswered and he can only dream

about being part of that society he idolizes, "Till human voices wake us,

and we drown." (131)

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