Character Sketch of Prufrock
T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, an interior monologue, starts on a humorous vein describing an elderly gentleman struggling to shake off the effects of aging. This impression is created by lyrical rhyme and comic imagery in the lines. As the poem progresses there is a shift to a grim tone with the imagery reflecting distress.
The speaker or narrator of the poem, is a shy, nervous middle-aged, over-cautious balding man who feels very insecure in life, lacks confidence and is frightened very easily. His heart is divided between intense passion on the one hand and diffidence and shyness on the other. His failure lies in the fact that he is unable to remain faithful to any accepted code of social conduct that would help him maintain his equanimity. He is hypersensitive and imagines several unpleasant situations. He is afraid the woman he approaches will throw a pillow and say “not at all” repeatedly, implying there was no intention of seeking or sharing love. He fails to act or speak when he should and that is the result of his indecisive nature.
Prufrock is a typical representative of the contemporary modern man. He is frustrated and powerless to get over his thwarted wishes and disenchantment. Expressions like “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” reveal the sense of ennui and boredom in the early twentieth century educated man. His attempts to escape from the ugly and the sordid, to the real and the beautiful, are only momentarily sustained.
Prufrock wants to behave like a young, charming youth but he knows very well that he cannot aspire for it as it is impossible for a man of his age to do so. Further, there has been nothing in his youth to remember with joy and cheer. He has had meaningless relationships with women leading him to the dull routine life which has nothing to offer except boredom.
Gradually his distressed mind juxtaposes his self against Shakespeare’s prince Hamlet whose tragic flaw is procrastination. It is no doubt an absurd comparison and Prufrock realizes his folly soon and avers that it would be more Gating to consider the father of Ophelia, Polonius, as his equal. Even that is not satisfying and he decides he cannot he anything and stops the attempt. He realizes that he is what he is, he must face reality and accept the place given to him in the society.
Several of Prufrock’s repetitions expose his anxiety about time. He repeats often that there will be time for everything This is ironically a reference in contrast to Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress“. Marvell utilizes the carpe diem philosophy to show the loss involved in waiting too long as lovers before consummation. That is, life is short and one should hasten to make the best use of it. Marvell’s lover is trying to convince the lady about the necessity to hurry up saying, “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” but Prufrock is trying to convince himself that there is a lot of time left for him to take decisions or enter into action. This is the most obvious repetition concerning his feelings toward age as in line 120, “I grow old… I grow old…”
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Prufrock also uses figures connected with getting old and life reaching its end. He juxtaposes his life with that of John the Baptist and Shakespeare’s Hamlet and avers that he is comparable with neither. He is neither a prophet nor the imaginary character Hamlet because he cannot be remembered by his prophesies through time. Nor can he brought to mind for his tragic actions like those of Hamlet.
In Prufrock’s world action is not of importance and social life is similar to the one portrayed in Alexander Pope’s mock epic Rape of the Lock. A tea party is of utmost importance and playing card games is the only way out to conquer ennui. Such boredom is discernible even in the relation between sexes. Robert B. Kaplan points out,
“The literal situation of the poem is the turn-of-the-century
Boston with its manners, poses, its summer houses at Hyannis
Port, its literary teas and its Ivy League graduates.”
For Prufrock who hails from the upper class society, the joy and cheer of parties becomes mere part of his upper class origin and yet outside the social class. As a member of his social strata he participates in all the formal and social gatherings and as an outsider he feels bored stiff and isolated from it. He does not make any effort to cure himself of his sense of alienation instead he escapes into the world of his own reminiscences and yearnings.