Thomas Eliot Essay Research Paper Thomas Sterns

Thomas Eliot Essay, Research Paper

Thomas Sterns Eliot wrote the poem ?The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?

over a period of six years and published it circa 1917 at the ripe old age of

twenty-nine. As his first published poem, ?Prufrock? revealed Eliot?s

original and highly developed style. Its startling jumps from rhetorical

language to clich?, its indirect literary references, and its simultaneous

humor and pessimism were quite new in English literature. (World Book, 236)

Prufrock?s quest for a life he cannot live and a question he has difficulty

confronting is intriguingly played out in various aspects of his humanity. He is

doing battle in all aspects of his personality, which establishes him as a

neurotic character. Neurosis, as defined by the Thorndike/Barnhart World Book

Dictionary, is: any one of various mental or emotional disorders characterized

by depression, (?I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across

the floors of silent seas.?) anxiety, (?So how should I presume? / And how

should I presume? / And how should I begin? / And should I then presume??) and

abnormal fears, (?Do I dare disturb the universe??). The personality of

Prufrock embodies these characteristics. The physical, mental, and spiritual

aspects of his life are governed by this ailment. Its fingers entwine about his

very soul, affecting every area of his consciousness. Physically aging, this

thin, balding male is aware of his decaying image, thus more self-conscious and

less confident. This cannot be more clearly stated than in lines 40-45: With a

bald spot in the middle of my hair? (They will say: ?How his hair is growing

thin!?) My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie

rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin? (They will say: ?But how his

arms and legs are thin!?) These physical insecurities prevent him from living

the life he longs for by distracting him from the things that have real meaning,

i.e., ?Shall I part my hair behind? and ?Do I dare to eat a peach??

These are petty questions that he asks to avoid the ?Overwhelming question.?

Prufrock is consumed with these insignificant details of his life. Prufrock

avoids life not only through trite physical worries, but through numerous mental

labors as well. These mental labors range from imagining himself as being

completely vulnerable ?Like a patient etherized upon a table? to Prufrock

looking at the superficiality of his life. The lines ?I have measured out my

life with coffee spoons?, ??setting a pillow or throwing off a shawl?,

and ?I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled? show the shallowness of

thought he uses to avoid coming to terms with his old age. Prufrock is a lonely

man. In the poem, there is no evidence of any relationship outside of the one he

has with himself. He makes references to ??restless nights in one-night

cheap hotels? and ?women [that] come and go.? He desires intimate

relationships, yet lacks the courage and self-confidence to even begin to pursue

love. His humanity and dignity cannot fully be realized without it. Prufrock

fancies himself to be someone who has known it all ? the evenings, the

mornings, the afternoons, the eyes, the arms. His pride leads him to believe

that he someone that he is not. Prufrock believes that life is superficial, but

he alone is deep. He may not be Prince Hamlet, yet he is still advisor to the

Prince. This is not a lowly job. He speaks highly of himself when he states ?

Deferential, glad to be of use, / Politic, cautious, and meticulous.? Proud as

he is, however, Prufrock eventually states the inevitable. He admits to being

?Almost, at times, the Fool.? With this confession, his pride crumbles and

he surrenders to the realization of his mortality. The very next lines emphasize

the gravity of this new awareness, ?I grow old? I grow old?? Here lies

the turning point of his worldview. Prufrock once had ?Time to turn back and

descend the stair,? but now time is running out. Throughout the poem,

Prufrock?s concept of time changes. Initially, he takes time for granted:

There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that

you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works

and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and

time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions

and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea. There are two significant

incidents in the poem that cause Prufrock to alter his view on time. The first

is when he asks the question ?Do I dare / Disturb the universe?? Immediately

after posing this question ??there is time [only] For decisions and

revisions which a minute will reverse?, implying that he realizes his time is

limited. Second, he comes to the understanding that he plays the part of the

Fool, which arouses the realization that he is almost out of time. This

awareness leads him to the ?Overwhelming question?: What happens after time

runs out? Fingers entwining about his very soul, Prufrock?s neurosis leads him

again and again to peer into the face of death. He has ??seen the eternal

Footman hold [his] coat, and snicker.? In short, he was afraid. ?The eyes

that fix you in a formulated phrase? are the eyes of God calling him to

account for his life; ?Then how should I begin / To spit out all the butt-ends

of my days and ways?? The mental image of being ??pinned and wriggling on

the wall? suggests that Prufrock is terrified of the time when he will be held

accountable. (Although at the earliest reading these lines may not appear to

have any profound meaning, in light of the overall context of the poem this

interpretation has sufficient validity.) His neurosis makes him the master of

his own hell. As unorthodox as these views on Prufrock may be, there are

credible sources that substantiate the above theories. Prufrock?s

concentration on physical concerns is highlighted in several quotes: ?Wanting

nothing less than the ability to fully articulate and control an image of

himself, Prufrock is afraid of both himself and others. (McNamara, 203),

?Prufrock is bothered by the women?s opinion of his appearance?he is

merely hoping that by conforming to the standards expected by society he may be

able to keep the backbiting women at bay.? (Bagshee, 192) Literary support for

Prufrock?s mental state of both anxiety and emotional denial is overwhelming.

There is ??the real sense of isolation, of loneliness, that exists under the

surface.? (Bagchee, 187) The quotes ?It is as if his mind were gradually

convulsed with spasms of suffering and then were intermittently rallied with a

mythology of self-esteem, only to succumb each time to more rational despair.?

(Smith, 220) and ??this sinister, slithering, and self-willed street is an

active agent of the anxiety that haunts the protagonist.? (Bagshee, 191) paint

the dark picture of a disconsolate man. ?The self and the self-image can never

coincide? and the result is an interminable anxiety which can only

increase.? (Ayers, 212) Robert McNamara describes Prufrock?s pathology

perfectly when he asserts: ?Prufrock? treats the disease in the only way

Eliot acknowledged it could be treated: ?the only cure for Romanticism is to

analyze it.? Rhetoric is pathological, in Eliot?s view, when it becomes

vehicle for evading feeling [and] for creating self-satisfying illusions. This

is exactly what Prufrock does. His over-analysis of every minute detail is a

vain attempt to shirk the ?question.? ?Surely the ?overwhelming

question? is there in the poem?? (Dyson, 184) ?In his absurd and

pointless life the encounter with this question is likely to be the only

significant thing to happen to Prufrock? The point of the intersection between

time and eternity? So far his life has been far from remarkable and he knows

that? Prufrock needs something that is infinite.? (Bagshee, 192) The fear of

being accountable for a wasted, superficial life is the reason he has difficulty

confronting the ultimate question. T.S. Eliot?s poem, ?The Love Song of J.

Alfred Prufrock?, has challenged me to explore the frontiers of my emotions.

With delight I consumed each line in hope of a deeper discovery. I am thankful

to have had the opportunity to study such a profound poet. This process will

better equip me with essential.


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