What is the summary of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is written in the form of a dramatic monologue and expresses Prufrock’s longing, alienation, and despair. Addressed to an unknown companion that at times seems to be a love interest and at times seems to be himself, he begins by inviting said person to join him on a walk through the lonely, poorer parts of the city—the red-light district with its brothels and “sawdust restaurants with oyster shells.” A question is poised to be asked, but Prufrock evades it, asking instead that they continue their journey.
A rhyming couplet is introduced at this point, to be repeated once more later in the poem:
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
From this the reader learns that Prufrock is not, as expected, wandering through the city with his companion, but is rather attending a gathering at which the other guests speak unrelentingly of only a single sophisticated topic, even as they “come and go.” The contrast is striking with the squalor of the red-light district that Prufrock had wound through in his mind.
In the next stanza, the fog is anthropomorphized:
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
The fog, ostensibly emulating a cat, is a yellowish color that speaks of illness.
Prufrock speaks next of time and indecision. “There will be time,” as he states, for nearly everything—murder and creation and, most of all, hesitation:
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
The line about the women who come and go is repeated once more, to emphasize its importance and ground the reader in Prufrock’s actual surroundings, and then the imagined setting morphs into the gathering. Prufrock worries about his physical appearance and manner of dress, his bald spot and thin limbs and “necktie rich and modest,” and imagines that the women will gossip about him as he turns away in fear and descends the stairs. His indecision is pronounced in this stanza. He asks himself:
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will
(The entire section contains 798 words.)
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T.S. Eliot published “Prufrock” in England in 1917 and in America in 1920, causing such a stir of praise and disapproval that by 1922 he probably was the most discussed of living American poets. Eliot insisted that the poet must “be able to see beneath both beauty and ugliness; to see the boredom, and the horror, and the glory” of contemporary society. Prufrock’s monologue was a classic statement of the disconnectedness and alienation that were to become a hallmark of much early twentieth-century poetry.
The speaker in this poem is Prufrock, who engages in an internal monologue. Prufrock wants to escape the solitary dreariness of his isolated existence, but is afraid to take action or ask for affection. He instead imagines a tea party that he and the reader will attend, a party where he will remain indecisive, lacking the creative energy of the men
they speak of such as Michelangelo. He recalls how the hero Hamlet finally acted after deliberation and indecisiveness, but he ultimately compares his own fear and inaction to that of the old fool, Polonius.
The title proves to be ironic, for we scarcely get a love song: “J. Alfred Prufrock” is a name that, like the speaker, seems to be hiding something (“J.”) and also seems to be somewhat old-maidish (“Prufrock” suggests “prude” and “frock”); the initial description (especially the “patient etherised”) is really less a description of the evening than of Prufrock’s state of mind; mock heroic devices abound (people at a cocktail party talking of Michelangelo, Prufrock gaining strength from his collar and stickpin); the sensuous imagery of women’s arms leads to the men in shirt-sleeves and to Prufrock’s wish to be a pair of ragged claws.