illustration of a woman holding a glass of wine and a man, Prufrock, standing opposite her

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T. S. Eliot

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What is an excerpt from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" that shows the theme?

The poem is about the protagonist, J. Alfred Prufrock and how he feels about himself. The passage that best supports this answer is the passage in which Prufrock says he will grow old and die without anyone noticing.

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This can be a very difficult poem to understand and to try and establish the them of. However, the secret to unlocking what Eliot is trying to talk about is the character of J. Alfred Prufrock himself and how he is characterised as being paralysed by his own fears of...

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himself and of others and what they think of him. He is a man who is literally burdened by self-doubt and fear of how he is perceived and thought of. Bearing this in mind, one of the key passages comes towards the end of the poem, when he reaches a conclusion about himself and his life. Consider the following lines:

I grow old... I grow old...

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Note how this quote reveals the role in life that the speaker feels he has. He sees himself as an aging man who tries to cling to his youth and longs to connect to others, symbolised in the mermaids, but does not expect to succeed. Note the lack of self-confidence and the self-doubt implied by the two questions in this quote. He is a man literally paralysed by how others may view him, and as a result can never really live a meaningful life. It is highly important that although he is walking on his way to a destination, he never reaches it, suggesting that his life will be passed in this way, journeying without every reaching a goal.

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What are the themes of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?

One theme of this poem is time. Prufrock complains that "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons." One meaning of that statement is that Prufrock has frittered his life away in small, pointless activities. Yet he is obsessed with time. He is getting older, has a bald spot, and has to keep reassuring himself that there it still time. In fact, in the fourth stanza, he shows his obsession with time by repeating the word time over and over again, thinking,

There will be time, 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 for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions . . . .

The word "time" appears elsewhere in the poem, showing that it is a central preoccupation for Prufrock. Yet the more he tries to capture time, the more it eludes him. He keeps saying there will be enough time for what he wants to do, but a central irony, and message, of the poem is that the more one tries to grasp time, the more it eludes the grasp. Thinking about time instead of just living leads to paralyzing indecision.

Time also brings us to the theme of modernity. Modernity is contrasted with the past. The past is described at the end as a time of myth and mermaids—a time where one could "linger," a time where the word "time" never appears. Modernity, in contrast, is the age of the factory, of dividing time into ever smaller pieces in order to possess and control it. The factory model of time is, in fact, comparable to measuring out life in "coffee spoons." This way of understanding time, the poem suggests, leads to one losing what is most essential in life, the ability to step out of time and into a world of myth and poetry. (We might note, too, that Eliot is ever obsessed with time in his writing.) If the past has a timeless quality, modernity is associated with repetition—Prufrock is the modern man, going through the motions over and over again—and thus Prufrock is associated with the modern factory machine.

Finally, a theme of despair threads through the poem, culminating, at the end, in Prufrock's fear he never will find the land of the imagination symbolized by the mermaids.

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What are the themes of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?

'Prufrock' is an extremely complex poem synthesizing many of what Eliot considered important ideas about history, poetry, and the personal. As Eliot himself points out in his seminal essay, 'Tradition and the Individual Talent', poetry at its most profound is the tradition of culture as a whole mediated through an individual sensibility. Thus in 'Prufrock' we hear voices of Shakespeare, Hesiod, Renaissance art, Matthew Arnold, etc.

The first major theme is that of indecision. Prufrock, like 'Hamlet', is a man who cannot make up his mind -- but unlike Hamlet, this is applied to the personal choice of his relationship with a woman rather than to the fate of a kingdom.

Another theme is modernity, and the way in which it dislocates the self from place, religion, and tradition, not only making the individual isolated and atomistic, separate from land and community, but also fragments the individual himself, separating emotion from intellect, reason from religion, etc.

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