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 role do "coffee spoons," "tea, cakes, ices," and "cups, marmalade, tea" play in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?

Quick answer:

The “coffee spoons,” “tea and cakes and ices,” and “the cups, the marmalade, the tea” all refer to the shallowness of the speaker’s life. He lives in a meaningless world of trifles that have no depth or meaning.

Expert Answers

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In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T. S. Eliot uses the metaphors of “coffee spoons,” “tea and cakes and ices,” and “the cups, the marmalade, the tea” to show the shallowness of the speaker’s life and how this shallowness has made him unable to cope with the great realities and trials of existence.

The “coffee spoons” show up in the speaker’s comment that he has “measured out [his] life with coffee spoons.” He has moved from one meal to another, from one social gathering to the next. His life is all about the social niceties represented by the coffee spoons. There is no depth to it and little meaning. He can sense more, but it is far away.

In an afternoon, he asks whether “after tea and cakes and ices,” he can actually face up to the depths of anything. Again, his life is counted out in this dainties. He spends his time consuming, but he cannot seem to go beyond that. He does not have the strength to force a relationship (or perhaps anything else) to come to its point of crisis that it may show its true meaning and be resolved one way or another. His life is dull and shallow, and he floats along.

The theme continues with the mention of “the cups, the marmalade, the tea,” again pointing to this life of social silliness and meagerness. The speaker wants to talk about his relationship with the woman he is addressing, but the social conventions get in the way.

The speaker continues to refer to these objects to emphasize that his life lacks the depth that moves beyond society’s expectations to the heart of the matter and the meaning of life.

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