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Seth Cassel
January 2008

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

The situation of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" seems as though Prufrock, the speaker, privately struggles with the decision of whether or not to speak with a woman. He is an elevated gathering of people, perhaps a restaurant, where "the woman come and go / talking of Michelangelo" (13-14). Amidst this group of people, Prufrock has identified a woman who he takes interest in, but does not approach the woman, rather doubting himself and wondering "do I dare?" (38) and "how should I begin?" (69).

Prufrock's obsessing and eventual decision not to approach the woman indicates a great deal about his character. He first sees an attempt as being futile because of his middle-aged "bald spot" (40) and average appearance, which would cause him to be viewed as unappealing. Later, Prufrock returns to this idea when he questions whether or not he would have the "strength to force the moment" (80) or to further his relationship with the woman. However, he soon remembers how he has seen his "head … brought in upon a platter" (82) and like before, returns to the belief that in making an advance on the woman he would be castigated by society. This unwillingness of the speaker to take risks and his tendency to downplay his importance intensifies in the closing lines.

The last section of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" begins with Prufrock's exclamatory remark that "No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be" (111). Prufrock sees himself as a common and ordinary person. He calls himself "an attendant lord" (112) who is content to live life as a follower of those who are great and not worthy of the woman he desires. The poem closes with abstract imagery centering upon the idea of the mermaid. Prufrock says, "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think that they will sing to me" (124-125). Prufrock sees the mermaid, a symbol for all of woman, as epitomizing female perfection and always in the distance, out of his reach. The last line of the poem suggests that in his personal isolation, Prufrock will "drown" (130), as the mermaids, or woman, will live on unaffected by his death.