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Prufrock’s narcissism is evident in his reaction to the process of ageing and how this will affect him. We see his reaction and contemplation of others’ comments as his hair recedes-
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
He continues, describing his attention to his dress suggesting that he will keep up appearances as the years progress-
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
And yet his contemplation is again how others will see him –
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"]
Interestingly he contradicts the assertion that he will remain smart and dapper into old age later in the poem –
I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
He continues to ruminate on his physical appearance and his physical well being-
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
Sadly he seems not to believe that this pride in himself will have any benefit from the attention to himself –
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.
Prufrock’s self-absorption is by definition Narcissistic.
We don’t know if he’s talking to the reader, a friend or himself. If it is internal, we might call it Prufrock’s reflective consciousness (the entire poem may be his internal struggle, Hamlet-esque, of whether or not to act): whether or not to be or not to be. This reflective consciousness is not based on empirical evidence towards a Truth Prufrock has. It is based on fear and, subsequently, self-interest. He is so terrified of being rejected that he protects himself by not acting. Also, by remaining in this realm of inaction, he remains in a realm of total possibility. In other words, if you only dream of acting, the possibilities are endless. It is only when you choose to do something that some possibilities will be realized and others destroyed. It is elitist to think you are beyond failure.
Do I dare
Disturb the Universe? (45-46).
He is afraid to act and/or he believes his act will be so grand (in failure or success) that it will disturb the Universe!
The poem begins, “Let us go then, you and I/When the evening is spread out against the sky” – where are we going? One some quest? What is this great quest? Oh, we’re going on a quest through your (Prufrock’s) own intellectual and psychological musings. How lucky for us! Prufrock also notes he has “known them all” – in line 49 he refers to knowing all the possibilities; and in line 55, all the eyes of women, and line 62, the arms.
By not acting, Prufrock remains the observer, the objectifier. He never subjects himself to the observation of this woman, never subjects himself to that stare and possible rejection.
And I have known already, known them all-
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on a wall,
Then how should I begin (55-59).
Ironically, Prufrock freezes himself (in terms of action); frozen in narcissistic exploration of his own thoughts and possibilities. As Peter Griffin might say, Prufrock’s love song insists upon itself. Prufrock insists upon himself or his ‘self.’ The poem is about itself; a kind of neurological narcissism of literary self-reflection. Prufrock thinks he is too important to risk rejection.
Even in facing his own death, he is tentative and yet still Narcissistic:
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker. (84).
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