In T.S. Eliot’s "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," what kind of a man is Prufrock?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Prufrock is the Everyman of modern times; his is the voice of the disillusioned, disappointed, dissatisfied, isolated man of contemporary times who bemoans his middle age and balding head, his inadequacies and his sexual frustrations. Prufrock gives voice to his disturbing thoughts through an interior monologue that strikes at the heart of all men who have felt not just physical but also psychological impotence. This inability to live an authentic existence in the modern world with its "hundred indecisions...hundred visions and revisions" while superficial women "come and go/Talking of Michelangelo" greatly disturbs Prufrock.

Prufrock is characterized by weariness and regret as he becomes aware of his mortality amidst a decaying society (symbolized by "yellow"), a mortality that he has measured out "with coffee spoons": 

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening...Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys...

And indeed there will be time...
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create...
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Prufrock is overcome with self-doubt and is unable to live a meaningful existence in the modern world in which he knows "I'm no Hamlet" and the best he can do is talk and ask "Do I dare?...Do I dare?....disturb the universe?"

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

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