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The Romantically Impaired Prufrock Essay, Research Paper
The Romantically Impaired Prufrock
T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” depicts the complexity of the modern age. Eliot, himself justified the complexity by arguing that the poet, who is to serve as the interpreter and critic of a complex age, must write complex poetry. And certainly we would all agree that the 20th century was a complex age(Martin 423).
J. Alfred Prufrock is no Hamlet. He is a hopeless romantic at best, T.S. Eliot’s poster child for 20th century aristocratic society.
Prufrock lives in a world where art and music have become the idle conversation of dilettante women who are spiritually, sexually, and intellectually dead, but for whom the meaning and life of art have long since been drained in the endless cycle of their teacups(Fryxell 112). The women, “taking of Michelangelo” seem to feel no real passions and they have no real thoughts; they are machines without the gas or oil that keeps a machine going. Prufrock himself is something of an exception, but not much of one(Fryxell 110).
Eliot’s dramatic monologue is built around three major themes. The first of these is the time theme. Drenched with anxiety, Prufrock says: “And indeed there will be time.” Prufrock uses time as an excuse to remain comfortable in his undisturbed universe. By opening the fourth stanza with: “And indeed there will be time,” Eliot echoes the memorable line: “Had we but world enough and time’ from Andrew Marvell’s seductive poem, “To His Coy Mistress.” Ironically, Prufrock does not feel compelled to seize the day(Pagnattaro 108). Prufrock repeats his
conviction that “indeed there will be time” to wonder ” Do I dare?’ and Do I dare?’”-that is, first, does he dare express his true feelings to the woman he adores, and if not, does he dare to flee down the stares after he rang the doorbell, knowing that the subject of his affections may spot the “bald spot in the middle” of his hair(Pagnattaro 108). Yes, “indeed there will be time,” time for Prufrock to sink back eternally among the rounds of teacups(Fryxell 111).
The second theme of Prufrock is the “Do I dare” theme, in which Prufrock questions his ability to disturb his universe. The “Do I dare” theme reveals Prufrock’s dread of being no good, second-rate, a loser, victim of unemployable gifts(Donoghue 2). Deliberately, Eliot has Prufrock begin this theme with a philosophical question; Prufrock asks: “Do I dare disturb the universe?” But before the end of the poem, the question degenerates into: “Do I dare eat a peach?” This degeneration not only demonstrates Prufrock’s cowardice, but reveals the same shallowness as the dilettante women “talking of Michelangelo.” Ultimately, Prufrock’s paradigm shifts from his “universe” to his “digestion.”
The third theme is one of world weariness, which is begun in the line: “For I have known them all already, known them all.” This theme underscores his depression from the life he leads. This is shown most effectively in the line: “For I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” Prufrock uses his weariness as an excuse for not doing what his alter-ego had hoped to do. He begins this breakdown by saying that it would not be worthwhile, that he would be misunderstood, and that to bring life into this world he would have to be like Lazarus come to life, “come back to tell you all.” But he is not Hamlet, he is not John the Baptist. He is only a pathetic loser, J. Alfred Prufrock.
Prufrock cannot see the forest for all the toothpicks(Citino 2). He only flirts with the notion of being heroic, of being alive. He is a sexually repressed, pseudo-intellectual, who can only dream of passion and love. But we pity him; we relate to him. In a complex age of fast paced living, where one has little time to slow down and experience life, let alone enjoy it, we have the voice of one ordinary loser asking: “Should I, after tea and cake and ices, have the strength to force the moment to its crisis.” J. Alfred Prufrock is no Hamlet. Are you?
Williamson, George. A Readers Guide to T.S. Eliot. 1953.
Kenner, Hugh. The Invisible Poet; T.S. Eliot. 1964.
Martin, Mildred. A Half-Century of Eliot Criticism. 1972.
Alexander, James D.. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ The Explicator. Fall 1994. Vol. 53. p53.
Donoghue, Dennis. Beginning. The Southern Review. Summer 1998. v34. p32-40.
Pagnattaro, Marisa. The Comedy of J. Alfred Prufrock. The Georgia Bar Journal. Fall 1993. Vol. 64. p24-28.
Citino, David. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’s Friend. ANQ. Fall 1998. v11. i4. p61.
Fryxell, Donald. Understanding Prufrock. Robert Frost’s Chicken Feather; And Other Lectures. 1968 Augustana College NDEA English Institute.
Eliot, Thomas Stearns. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” The Complete Poems and Plays. New York: Harcourt, 1952.
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