Showing posts with label Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Show all posts

Monday, December 3, 2012

How does Prufrock in T.S Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock personify a tormented observer, who is hesitant and unable to commit himself?

The poem 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' is an examination of the tortured psyche of a prototypical modern man, who is over-educated, eloquent, neurotic, and emotionally stilted. Prufrock, the poem's speaker, is the member of the cultured society of a modern city which may be London, Boston or any other. The hero is different from the traditional hero of the love poems. He is entirely unheroic,a bundle of hesitations and indecisions.

At beginning of the poem he seems to be addressing a potential lover, with whom he would like to "force the moment to its crisis" by somehow consummating their relationship. But Prufrock knows too much of life to "dare" an approach to the woman: In his mind he hears the comments others make about his inadequacies, and he chides himself for "presuming" emotional interaction could be possible at all.

Eliot modernizes the form of dramatic monologue by removing the implied listeners and focusing on Prufrock's interiority and isolation. It is an internal debate in the mind of  Prufrock between two sides of his personality and it is through this debate the poet has thrown light on the spiritual degeneracy of the speaker.

The poem opens with an epigram from Dante’s Inferno in which Guido de Montefeltro, who is consumed in flames as punishment for giving false counsel, confesses his shame because he believes that it cannot be reported back on earth. In context, this excerpt is essentially Prufrock’s assurance that he can confide in his reader without fear of shame for what he is about to disclose.

The poem with the speaker’s address to a person, supposed to be a woman. The time is evening and the sky looks like a ‘patient etherized’ upon a table. The expression ‘patient etherized is a metaphysical conceit and serves here as an objective correlative to express the inner consciousness of the speaker. He is like an etherized patient, who has lost the power of activity and has become inactive. The poet introduces some other imageries in the opening stanza such as "half-deserted streets" (4) reveal "one-night cheap hotels / And sawdust restaurants" which evoke the picture of a sterile and deadly city. Although Eliot does not explore the sterility of the modern world as deeply here as he does in "The Wasteland" (1922), the images are undeniably bleak and empty.

In the next stanza the poet shows the fog/cat, which seems to be looking in on the roomful of fashionable women "talking of Michelangelo" (13). Unable to enter, it lingers pathetically on the outside of the house, and we can imagine Prufrock avoiding, yet desiring, physical contact in much the same way (albeit with far less agility). Eliot again uses an image of physical debasement to explore Prufrock's self-pitying state; the cat goes down from the high windowpanes to the "corners of the evening" (17) to the "pools that stand in drains" (18), lets soot from the high chimneys fall on its back (since it is lower down than the chimneys), then leaps from the terrace to the ground. While Eliot appreciated the dignity of cats, this particular soot-blackened cat does not seem so dignified. Rather, the cat appears weak, non-confrontational, and afraid to enter the house. Moreover, Prufrock's prude-in-a-frock effeminacy emerges through the cat, as felines generally have feminine associations.

Prufrock’s inability to act becomes even clearer in the next stanza in which he repeats ‘indeed there will be time’.It is the characteristic Hamletian indecision. He thinks that there will be enough time to make the decision. Prufrock  is clearly a thinker, not a feeler, and his indecisive thoughts contribute directly to his paralysis. Prufrock's refrain "And indeed there will be time" (23, 37) is an allusion to Metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" ("Had we but world enough, and time" [1]), in which the speaker urges his lady to speed up their courtship.

Prufrock's social paralysis is diagnosed in the next stanza. The smallest action - descending stairs - is occasion for magnified self-scrutiny and the fear that he will "Disturb the universe" (46). He continues asking himself questions about how to comport himself, but admits he will reverse these decisions soon. His inaction is constantly tied to the social world: "Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, / Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?" (79-80) The somewhat silly rhyme here underscores the absurdity of Prufrock's concerns. Yet Eliot fleshes out Prufrock's character and makes his worries, however trivial, human. Prufrock twice refers to his balding head, describes his plain, middle-aged clothing, and draws us into his point-of-view of the social world. He is a coward and does not have courage enough to face his lady. He is acutely conscious of his old age, of his baldness and of his thin body.

Prufrock knows the pros and cons of the upper class society and the party women.All his knowing makes him inactive.The triviality of the contemporary society is portrayed through the line ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons. Modern life is passed in giving tea-parties in which there is too much frivolity and flippancy but little sense.

The perfume coming from the dresses of women stimulates his sense, but he can’t express his emotion and feels miserable. He knows the flirtations and tricks of the upper class women. He has observed the lonely old man.Prufrock is bored with the triviality of life and with his own decision. He wishes that he were a sea-animal which catches its prey and rums swiftly across the sea. He would like to escape his present surroundings.