The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Questions and Answers
by T. S. Eliot

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Explain the themes of futility and pointlessness in T. S. Eliot's poems "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Hollow Men."

The themes of futility and pointlessness run throughout T. S. Eliot’s "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Hollow Men." In "Prufrock," the narrator is beset by his personal futility. "Do I dare" visit the prostitutes, he asks. Yes, but "They will say: 'But how his arms and legs are thin!'" By the end he has accepted that he is not special, not "Hamlet." In "The Hollow Men," it is life in general that is pointless.

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In his poems "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Hollow Man," T. S. Eliot lays out two types of futility and pointlessness: that of an individual in "Prufrock" and that of life in general in "The Hollow Men." "Prufrock," in particular, is nothing if not a wail of futility. The narrator does not much believe in himself, which might account for his visit to a prostitute. Even before he arrives, it’s evident there is much he has to overcome:

When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table....

It is not merely the evening that is etherized: so too is the narrator. He is not fully prepared when he gets to "the room where the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo," and he hopes, rather than means, "there will be time" to ascend upstairs to the prostitutes. He does eventually arrive upstairs, but doubts himself anew.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair
With a bald spot in...

(The entire section contains 565 words.)

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