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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 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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