The Deeper Side of Prufrock from The Love Son of J. Alfred Prufrock
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 cliché, 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...