How does the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" depict the human condition?

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Am I alone in finding so many of my own thoughts and hangups echoed in this poem?! I hope not! No, I think that so much of what captures the angst of J. Alfred Prufrock is his obsession of what others will think about him, which induces in him a state of paralysis that dominates his life. He is never able to simply let go of what others might think about him and simply live, and is a shadow of a human being as a result, with whom the mermaids will not speak.

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charcunning | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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Prufrock is so relatable even to today's society! So many people put on faces to meet the faces that we meet (not exact quote, sorry) and pretend to be things that we are not just so we can fit in with what popular culture tells us to be.

Also, so many people "measure their lives with coffee spoons" and never really live out loud, as the current saying goes. Life is about taking risks and chances, but when you live in fear of the 'what if', like Prufrock does, you miss opportunities that could turn out to be wonderful.

Prufrock is afraid of rejection, which I think is true for everyone; however, he lets it incapacitate him--and so do many people today!

kwoo1213's profile pic

kwoo1213 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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Post #2 is a great discussion of the human condition in this poem!  I would like to add, however, that it also shows how not being brave and/or decisive can wreck one's life!  Prufrock is a meek, weak individual who will not "go for it" and lacks the courage to speak to these women.  He mulls it over and over in his mind, but he cannot do it.  He resigns himself, at the end of the poem, to be just as he has been...hopelessly alone.  

Prufrock irritates me terribly as a character because he always seems "whiny" to me.  The more times I read it, the more I would like to tell Prufrock, "Suck it up!  Get over it and show some courage!"  

sullymonster's profile pic

sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

This poem shows humans to be alienated and alone, the victims of a false society that instills fear and self-consciousness.  The initial description of the city, covered in yellow fog, with the sawdust restaurant floors suggests an area that is both lower class and somewhat tawdry.  This place is restless and off-putting, but the place that it leads us is no different.

"In the room the women come and go talking of Michaelangelo."

This new place, full of collars and neckties, is more formal, but just as uncomfortable.  Prufrock continues to wonder "do I dare?", showing that he is uncertain about how to act and what forward steps to talk.  He is self-conscious about his dress and what peopel might say about him - "how his arms and legs are thin".

The further description and narration of Prufrock shows an individual paralyzed by the judgement of society.  He has become an "attendant lord" - a man of little importance and is like an insect that has been pinned and is "wriggling on the table." And, most of all, as much as he wonders if he should express his interest in a woman, he is stopped by the fear of what her answer will be.  In the end, Prufrock believes he just should have been a crab, a "pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floor of silent seas."  Isolated and alone.

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