In 'The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock', what kind of person is J. Alfred Prufrock?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Prufrock is a shy, lonely, insecure, middle-aged individual. The poem offers us a direct insight into his confused, questing, wandering mind. He appears trapped in his own thoughts, unable to freely communicate with others, wandering aimlessly from one subject to another.

We get a strong sense of Prufrock's alienation from society, and especially of his impatience with the superficial, tedious social routines of dressing up, taking tea, making small talk. Prufrock feels isolated, and resentful of such scenes. 'I have measured out my life with coffee spoons', he notes sardonically (line 51), instead of doing anything really worthwhile. In a word, he is bored.

Prufrock sees himself with an ironic eye, as some kind of universal 'Fool' (119), a sad lonely, ageing, pathetic figure. He feels of so little account that at one point he remarks:

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floor of silent seas. (73-74)

 

He returns to the sea-image towards the end of the poem, when he conjures up a romantic picture of mermaids, 'riding seaward on the waves' (126), although he admits that such enticing creatures would probably not 'sing to me' (125). However, he is able to escape his dreary life for a while in romantic daydreaming, until he is brought back to reality by 'human voices' which cause him to 'drown' (131). The poem therefore ends with a striking image of him floundering helplessly and being submerged in an uncongenial world.

The poem encapsulates both pathos and comedy in its view of an alienated individual in modern urban society, mixing the profound with the trivial in an effective way. 

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