The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Theme
Table of Contents
Themes that get analyzed repeatedly in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock are Prufrockian paralysis, love, and the answering fragmentary style that reflects the contemporary society. Inability to act when one should or Prufrockian paralysis, has been a very essential characteristic of many eminent fictitious characters. Shakespeare’s Hamlet who is a shining example of such a problem, is powerless to organize his thoughts or his uneasy, worried mind which makes him procrastinate till the end of the play.
Theme of Prufrockian paralysis
Eliot establishes a parallel and contrast between Hamlet’s paralysis and that of Prufrock. Both are subject to this problem but while Hamlet comes out of it at the end, Prufrock is unable to get over it even at the end. Thus Eliot brings up Hamlet’s paralysis to his contemporary world through The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock, highlighting his concept of the living tradition. The element of contrast appears when the cause of Hamlet’s condition, murder and the crooked state of a kingdom, is juxtaposed with Prufrock’s question whether he could “dare to eat a peach” (122) in the presence of sophisticated high-society ladies.
Prufrock’s paralysis involves his social and sexual anxieties which are almost closely connected. The name Prufrock also implies a prude in a frock and the protagonist’s weakening is revealed in two places. His “arms and legs are thin,” and “his hair is growing thin”. The remainder of the monologue speaks of his inability to take action, do something after tea, because he has no courage left or strength left to “force the moment to a crisis” (79-80).
Prufrock’s paralysis is deeply entrenched in psychosexual unease. He is extremely conscious of his baldness as hair is considered a mark of masculinity. Actually the earlier title of the monologue was “Prufrock Among the Women”. Prufrock’s balding, weak, neurotic, effeminate, intellectual personality is bewildered and frightened before women. His anxiety is best expressed in the image of himself as “pinned and wriggling on the wall” (58) under the steady stare of sophisticated women. Prufrock looks at them in parts as though they were segregated from their bodies.
The image of “Arms that are braceleted and white and bare”  is a typical example. At this stage he feels he is noticed by women but by the end of the poem, he feels he has been banished from the society of women. The proof lies in “mermaids singing, each to each./ I do not think that they will sing to me” (124-125). Prufrock is a mock-hero in the contemporary age but his anxieties are pitiable and genuine.
Prufrock’s paralysis is revealed through temporal repetition and the sense of anxiety in the structure of the poem. Refrains
“In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo” (13-14, 35-36)
“And would it have been worth it, after all” (87,99),
highlight Prufrock’s propensity to get lost in a problem. As the silver lining seems to appear beyond the cloud of his confusion, he confirms a line from the commencement of the stanza. For example, the double “at all” from the woman’s “That is not it at all, / That is not what I meant, at all” (109-110) supplies the response to his question, “And would it have been worth it, after all”. Deducing from the suggestions, one concludes that it will not be worth the trouble by any means. The swaying rhythm that at times occurs in several rhymed lines, points to his puzzled, muddled idea of time.
Such illusion merely hides Prufrock’s delusion and greater apprehension regarding his future and old age. He has already lost the charm of youth and the only thing he can reach for is death. The epigraph from Dante’s Inferno throws a tomblike paleness on the events, and Prufrock seems to be already in his own horrendous life after death. Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” serves as ironical remarks on the protagonist’s approach to life. The speaker of the poem tries to persuade the lady to live with him before her youth fades and body weakens. The two references to the poem in
“And indeed there will be time” (23)
“would it have been worth while,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball” (90, 92)
lay stress more on Prufrock’s paralysis than on sex. He deceives himself into believing that he has ample time at his disposal and that he need not be in a hurry to take action. He has to come to terms with the fact that death is inevitable. Prufrock is between the thought of sex that will provide progeny, and death which will lead to the end of life. He seems to move slowly towards the latter.
Theme of Fragmentation
“Fragmentation“, a key expression in modernist literature implies an accretion of assorted signs like words, images and sounds. Although the result is sometimes disorderly, it was successful because the modernists believed that meaning could be gleaned from these fragments. The belief that from the ruins of fragments some order could be identified, gave hope to the confused contemporary life. Prufrock lives in a city which is patchy and disjointed, a broken assortment of “Streets that follow like a tedious argument.” (8) Here “lonely men in shirt-selves” (72) look out of their secluded windows. The populace in fragmented, disoriented and isolated, even the infertile and barren skyline is reminiscent of a “patient etherized upon a table” (3).
- Symbolism and Imagery in Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Analysis
- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Questions and Answers
The fragmentation is traceable even to Prufrock’s mind and voice. The free flow of thought is obstructed by self-questioning and embarrassment reflecting back on the mind. He has several fragmented historic and poetic voices resulting in a choral effect. The chorus includes the epigraph, the repeated references to the Bible, Shakespeare, Andrew Marvell and several poetic forerunners and this choral voice disallows a solo voice. Eliot manages to establish unity through this diversity of voices.
Theme of Love
In T.S. Eliot’s landmark work, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock the theme of love is also enlarged by other universal concepts. This subject is communicated to the readers through a prominent individual endowed with a distinct psychological sketch which conspicuously brings to the mind of the reader the idea that love and romance is something commonly desired by all although not attained by all. This is particularly true of people like Prufrock for whom attempts at achieving success in romance seem pointless. Prufrock’s problem is not that he is unable to find love but that he is very conscious of his middle age and physical appearance which is noticed by all. He dare not speak to women because he is certain that they will judge him only by his looks. He has lost the bloom of youth and is on his way to his end.
Eliot considered most of human endeavours as dull routine, a pointless misuse of time. He presumed that the recurring nature of activity made man feel life was boring and futile. He is of the view that men are segregated by misinterpretation and self-centeredness. They tend to live an isolated life in a world of their own. Eliot avers that the present includes the past in the form of broken memories in a fragmented world. As he observes in “Burnt Norton”
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.”
Thus Eliot touches on the relevant themes in his society and juxtaposes them against their equivalent characters in the past reiterating his concept of the living tradition which runs from the Homeric past to the living present.