How would you interpret "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot?

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dashing-danny-dillinger eNotes educator| Certified Educator

T. S. Eliot’s hugely influential poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a dramatic monologue that reveals the speaker’s perceived insecurities and shortcomings. The poem details the turbulent inner life of a man who struggles with his confidence. He is overly analytical and reticent to being called to action. He is a prime example of an antihero. The poem includes famously brilliant lines that embody his nature. For example, when he considers talking to women at a party, he laments:

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” (73).

Later in the poem, the speaker sees an opportunity slip through his outstretched hands:

“I am no prophet— and here's no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid” (73).

The speaker’s anxious sexual frustration is present throughout the poem as he overanalyzes every aspect of his presence at a party. Toward the end of the poem, he ironically compares himself to another antihero famous for his indecision, Hamlet:

“No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the fool” (74).

Thus, this dramatic monologue vividly illustrates the inward struggle of a nebbish, awkward man as he reflects on his own social impotence.

I pulled my textual evidence from The Bloodaxe Book of 20th Century Poetry.

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

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