’s Insecurities Essay, Research Paper
J. Alfred Prufrock and His Insecurities
Born in America, T.S. Eliot s relocation to Britain was the first sign of his identity crisis. Eliot was obsessed with anything British, and he also had an internal religious conflict. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is Eliot s way to express his self through a different character. Eliot uses stream of consciousness to put the reader in Prufrock s position. The fragmented thoughts are used to follow Prufrock in his own thought process so they can feel like they are inside his mind. Prufrock is in love with a woman but she is unfortunately of a different class. He uses the poem to analyze his thoughts to see how much he cares for her. In the end, Prufrock decides that it would be best not to tell her how he feels and just lets her go. Eliot uses J. Alfred Prufrock to express his own isolation, loneliness, and sexual repression.
Eliot sometimes felt the need to be a part of the upper class. Prufrock realizes that he doesn t truly belong and that the whole affair is meaningless and superficial, but he still wants to be a part of it. He describes the women, In the room women come and go talking of Michelangelo, (lines 13-14 and 35-36). He says this at least twice throughout the poem, which makes it seem boring and tedious. The reader gets the impression that Prufrock does not like being a member of high society and there is also a possibility that his lady is not a part of the elite. He speaks of having to see her at cheap hotels, which suggest that they can t go anywhere where someone will recognize him. Since Prufrock and his lady are of different classes, he wonders if it would be worth it for them to come together. And would it have been worth it, after all, would it have been worth while, (lines 99-100 and 106). He speaks in the future tense; Would it have been worth it, after all which suggests that it has not yet been done, (line 99). He doesn t want to have to leave his place in society, but he doesn t really want to put her in the uncomfortable position of coming to a higher rank. He knows that she will be judged as coming from a lower class. He doesn t want to subject her to the scrutiny that he underwent and that she will inevitably undergo if they come together, (line 55). Prufrock fears rejection and people s preconceived notions because he has known the eyes already the eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, (line 55). He is tired of the way rich people make up their minds about others before giving them a fair chance to prove them wrong, and even then they keep you fixed on what their first impression was.
Prufrock knows that most likely he would have to leave his position in society and he s not sure if he wants to. And I have seen the Eternal footman hold my coat, and snicker, (line 85). He has no confidence in his decision and this is why he spends this whole poem trying to figure out how much this decision will count. He wants to know that there will be enough time to take back a decision. And time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions, (line 32-34). He is not sure if he really wants to leave high society for her and wants to make sure that he can change his mind if he feels the need Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets and watched the smoke that rises from the pipes of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? (line 70-72). He wonders if he should say that he has done these things so that it will appear that he belongs with her. He is not sure if he should leave his place in the social order. Also Prufrock knows that a lot of the society mannerisms are meaningless and redundant. After the cups, the marmalade, the tea, among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me, would it have been worth while, to have bitten off the matter with a smile, (lines 87-91). He knows that it would be easier for them to have a relaxed conversation, but they would not be able to in high society. Would it be worth it for her to move up if they can t relax and enjoy it together?
Prufrock also is afraid that his age is a barrier in the likelihood of this relationship working out. He mentions that he hopes there will be enough time. He says how he would like for their lives to be if they are together, but he knows he cannot predict the future. He knows that people would talk and she would not be very happy. He points out that he is getting older when he refers to his thinning hair. Time to turn back and descend the stair with a bald spot in the middle of my hair, (line 39-40). He doesn t want her to be embarrassed when people talk about how he may be too old to start a relationship. (They will say: How his hair is growing thin! ) (line 42). And the reader also must think, Is there maybe something else wrong with Prufrock that he may be rushing into this relationship because he may not be around for long. Does Prufrock think he is close to his own death?
Prufrock has absolutely no confidence in himself or his abilities to win a love. He is worried that he is not good enough for her. The whole poem is about his doubts and his questions of whether he is enough of a man for another woman. Prufrock feels that he is not a great man, not truly worthy of such a woman as she, (lines 84 and 111-112). He is very fond of this woman, he makes that clear, but he just isn t sure how much. Is it really love or is it the longing for something he is not supposed to have? Prufrock mentions how self-conscious he is when he tells how it is impossible to say just what I mean! (line 104). And he wishes for a magic lantern to throw nerves on a screen, so that she will understand what it is he is trying to say (line 105). He does not want her to misunderstand him and say, That is not it at all, that is not what I meant at all (line 108-110). He wants to make sure that whatever he does end up saying, it is what he wants to say and it is clear. He has no self-esteem and he is frustrated because he can t figure out how to express himself. Prufrock speaks of how they would have to sneak around to see each other by describing the yellow fog on the windowpanes (lines 15-16) and by describing the night as a sneaky cat. Licked its tongue slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap curled once about the house, and fell asleep (lines 17, 20, and 22). He is not confident enough of his love for her to not sneak around. He paints the scenario as a mystery to make it seem more desirable, when it is just really his own insecurities that are keeping him from her.
Prufrock says that he is not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be so he cannot procrastinate in telling her how he feels. Hamlet s procrastination results in a tragedy. Prufrock should not put off telling her because something could happen to one of them and he might not get the chance.
The whole poem has a feeling of uncertainty. It almost seems that the reader is seeing inside Prufrock s head as he is trying to decide whether or not his love for her is enough to outweigh the unavoidable conclusions. The impression is made that this could be Prufrock s first love and that could be why he is so uncertain of the steps he should take to act on it.
Eliot also uses other author s writings to reflect himself. Eliot refers to a line from Andrew Marvell s To His Coy Mistress, to disguise the sexual implications he wishes to make. Prufrock wonders would it have been worth it to have squeezed the universe into a ball (line 92). Marvell says they should roll their strength and sweetness of life into a ball so that they could enjoy it more, meaning sex.
Being a symbolist poet, Eliot uses symbols of the night and the deserted streets to describe sex. The reader must question if Prufrock has ever really experienced true intimacy because he speaks of it like he is not sure what to say about it, so he describes his feelings of it. When he describes the city as a confusing maze it makes the reader think that a woman has led him around in circles before and he wonders if there is more to it. Prufrock seems to be a shy inexperienced little boy with the problems of an old and feeble man.
T.S. Eliot wrote, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock as a way to show his insecurities and loneliness, not only in love and sex, but also in his own decisions. Eliot uses symbols throughout his poem to demonstrate the key motivators of the majority of his problems. Prufrock has a very apparent inability to connect with the world around him. He is very uncomfortable and self-conscious when he is around the people of his own class, but he is also very unsure of himself when it comes to leaving it for another society. He is only comfortable with his own insecurities. The poem never says whether Prufrock ever did anything about these feelings. At the end, the reader is led to believe that he didn t, that maybe he drowned instead.