Prufrock distances himself from people both physically and mentally. He has extensive knowledge of the streets and establishments of the red-light district, indicating that he has wandered the area frequently; and when pondering how he might declare himself to a woman, he thinks:
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of
Prufrock wanders extensively, never settling yet never acting. He rarely allows himself to get close to people, and appears to feel more kinship with the "lonely men in shirt-sleeves" than with his peers. At a party of his peers, he retreats to his imagination and dreads interacting with the women:
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
He is self-conscious in their presence—he assesses his physical appearance only to find it lacking, what with his bald spot and thin limbs, and assumes that the women will judge him. He believes them to be superficial, speaking only of Michelangelo even as they “come and go.” The contrast between their unchanging conversation about art and the squalor of the city Eliot evokes is striking, and helps the reader to understand Prufrock’s frustration. Yet he belongs to neither world and so rests in his own in-between place—his imagination. He prefers to imagine mermaids singing on a beach rather than participate in the conversations that are taking place all around him.