The Use of Symbolism in T.S. Eliot's, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
A well-written poem is built out of levels. Each level alludes to the next until the ultimate discovery of the poet's message. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T. S. Eliot, provides a perfect example of a well-crafted poem comprised of sequential levels, also known as a framed story. At the level just below the very surface, the poem obscurely tells the story of a failed lobster prophet, resurrected from the dead to warn other lobsters of the cruel fate that awaits them in the event of their capture. In the course of the story, the lobster prophet falls prey to the harvest of a lobster catcher and is then sent to a restaurant as food. While in the tank with the other lobsters, he reflects on and laments his life. This interpretation serves as a vehicle for presenting the true message of the poem, which exists on the next level, to the audience. The story of the lobster represents Eliot's own fear of people overlooking the messages he attempts to convey in his poetry. Even though he has learned this lesson from previous poems, he feels an attempt to save his future poems is futile in the same way as one lobster saving another is futile.
One indicator that the lobster interpretation exists at the level below the surface of the poem is the yellow fog that fills the "... sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells" (Eliot L. 7). The persona describes "The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes / ... Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains" (Eliot LL. 15&18). The yellow fog from the passage is the steam from a restaurant's lobster pot that boils and cooks the lobsters. The yellow fog receives its color from the dim yellow lighting of the restaurant. When the steam rubs its back against the window panes and stands in drains, it literally means the fog is condensing on the glass of the lobster tank and draining down the sides in streaks of dripping water. The persona also says that "There will be a time to murder and create" which refers to the "murder" of the lobsters to "create" a lobster dinner for the restaurant patrons (Eliot L. 28). On the next level the restaurants patrons can be equated with Eliot's audience. Eliot expresses his feelings that each new poem he creates is another opportunity for the audience to murder his point like a lobster.
The persona refers to the patrons again as the "women [who] come and go / Talking of Michelangelo" (Eliot LL. 12-14). This stanza reoccurs throughout the entire poem because it emphasizes important points on multiple levels. The women who come and go are talking of Michelangelo as idle dinner conversation. This stanza holds significance because, in addition to the persona's fear of being eaten by these women, it also symbolizes a deeper intrinsic meaning for the poet himself at the next level. The lobster in the poem represents Eliot's poetry, and this stanza reflects Eliot's own fear of the people who...