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The Character Of J. Alfred Prufrock

1001 words - 4 pages

T. S. Eliot's poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" reveals the unvoiced inner thoughts of a disillusioned, lonely, insecure, and self-loathing middle-aged man. The thoughts are presented in a free association, or stream of consciousness style, creating images from which the reader can gain insight into Mr. Prufrock's character. Mr. Prufrock is disillusioned and disassociated with society, yet he is filled with longing for love, comfort, and companionship. He is self-conscious and fearful of his image as viewed through the world's eye, a perspective from which he develops his own feelings of insignificance and disgust. T. S. Eliot uses very specific imagery to build a portrait of Mr. Prufrock, believing that mental images provide insight where words fail.

The poem begins by suggesting that Mr. Prufrock is mentally disassociated with society. Mr. Prufrock, addressing the audience or some imaginary confidante, proposes the mental journey commence "When the evening is spread out against the sky \ Like a patient etherised [sic] upon a table" (ll. 2-3). The lines evoke images of drug induced, altered realities. He follows by recommending visits to "one-night cheap hotels" (l. 6) and "sawdust restaurants" (l. 7). The references infer that the locations are not the speaker's normal environments and are part of fantasy environments. In lines 15 through 22, the speaker credits the smog with feline characteristics. He further states "Though I have seen my head [...] brought in upon a platter..." (l. 81). Although it is a biblical reference to the decapitation of John the Baptist, the statement is indicative of an active fantasy life. He admits to having heard mermaids sing and speaks of life on a beach. He creates the fantasy world as a comforting alternative to the real world from which he feels disconnected. Mr. Prufrock longs to be part of society, and if resigned that he cannot, imagines that he is not alone in his disenfranchisement. He speaks of other "lonely men [...] leaning out of windows" (l. 72). He believes they too watch the world without participating.

Though Mr. Prufrock longs to belong in society, he more desires companionship and physical involvement. Using the lines like a refrain, he says "In the room the women come and go \ Talking of Michelangelo" (ll. 13-14, 35-36). The famous sculptor and painter represents an object of excitement and desire of which the speaker is jealous. Of the women he speaks of "Arms that are braceleted [sic] and white and bare" (l. 64) and "Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl" (l. 68), and asks "It is perfume from a dress \ That makes me so digress" (ll. 66-67)? The speaker much desires the company of women. His mind returns over and over to images of women and companionship or interaction,...

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