What are the physical/emotional qualities of the narrator? What is the major conflict presented in the poem?

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lindseywarren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrator, or speaker (which is what we call the voice that narrates a poem), of this poem is Prufrock himself.  His name suggests that he is from a repressive, "fussy" segment of society, and this environment seriously influences who he is and what he does.  Plain and simple, Prufrock is repressed: he feels that he is "pinned and wriggling on the wall," indicating his helplessness to act; in addition, the epigraph of the poem (from Dante's Inferno) also suggests containment and entrapment as it is spoken by a condemned soul that will never be able to leave Hell, which is perhaps how Prufrock feels.

The poem contains numerous indicators of captivity and repression.  In addition to the epigraph, the poem describes Lazarus in his tomb and the "chambers" of the sea.

Faced with the repressiveness of his environment, Prufrock displays a strong desire to act out and assert himself.  The poem even begins with the words "Let us go," indicating his desire to move and act (though the following image, of an "etherized" patient, again suggests restriction).  He wants to roll his trousers up, eat a peach, and walk on the beach, all actions that are carefree and youthful and that work against the stuffy parlor room that contains him.

However, Prufrock is ultimately unable to do what he wants, because his main quality is his hesitation and indecisiveness.  Though he asserts that he is "not Prince Hamlet," he actually possesses Hamlet's tragic flaw--the inability to act.  So, the major conflict or tension in the poem is Prufrock's attempt to free himself, but he ultimately fails; the answer to Prufrock's "overwhelming question" that he poses throughout the poem--"Do I dare?"--is no.

Read the study guide:
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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