Emotion in T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
In his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T.S. Eliot subtly conveys a wide variety of Prufrock’s emotions; he creates pathos for the speaker by employing the “objective correlative,” which Eliot defines as “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events [that] shall be the formula of that particular emotion” (“Hamlet and His Problems”).
The first stanza introduces Prufrock’s isolation, as epitomized metaphorically by “half-deserted streets” (4): while empty streets imply solitude, Eliot’s diction emphasize Prufrock having been abandoned by the other “half” needed for a relationship or an “argument” (8). Hoping for a companion, Prufrock speaks to the reader when saying, “Let us go then, you and I” (1), as he needs to address his lament to an audience; conscious of the reader’s curiosity regarding the “overwhelming question,” (10) Prufrock answers, “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’” (11). (The likely explanation for Eliot’s inconsistent use of you in this stanza is Prufrock probably meaning you as “To lead one,” as he refers to himself and not the reader in line 10.) Eliot continues the metaphor of Prufrock’s lonesomeness by anthropomorphizing the “yellow fog” and “smoke” (15, 16) to signify Prufrock, who interacts not with people, but only the environment in the third, fourth, and fifth stanzas. Clearly it is Prufrock who “rubs [his] muzzle on the window-panes” (15, 16), passively lets “fall upon [his] back the soot that falls from chimneys” (19), “slides along the street” (24), and performs the actions also described; also, the opacity of “fog” and “smoke” symbolizes the difficulty with which readers perceive Prufrock’s true character, further separating him from potentially intimate relationships.
Eliot elaborates throughout the poem the longing for companionship Prufrock introduces in the first stanza. The “eyes” (55) and “arms” (62) that Prufrock claims to “have known” are synecdoches for women; since he does not say he is familiar with their hearts, which would metaphorically imply experience with their love, Prufrock only knows women physically. He gives one explanation for this by noting the “perfume” and “dress” (65) that make him “digress” (66) from presumably his goal: instead of fostering relationships, Prufrock focuses on sexual/sensual aspects. In spite of this, Eliot provides insight to Prufrock desiring more than physical intimacy through the repeated mention of meals: “toast and tea” (34), “tea and cakes and ices” (79), “marmalade” (88), “tea cups” (102); these references indicate a wish to no longer dine alone, and Prufrock saying, “Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me” exemplifies his aspiration for domestic life.
Eliot explains Prufrock’s isolation by hinting at the man’s anxiety. When Prufrock says, “There will be time to murder and create,” (29), he likely refers to the elimination of possibilities and the manifestation of a...