The attitudes toward love expressed in T. S. Eliot’s ironically titled poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” are various, but include the following:
- a strong sense of uncomfortable self-consciousness as Prufrock imagines himself being looked at, talked about, and found wanting by observers who are presumably female (“They will say: How his hair is growing thin!’” ). Prufruck seems to lack self-confidence, especially in his relations with women. Presumably it is women, too, who also preoccupy his thoughts a few lines later (“They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’” ). Prufrock’s sense of his physical shortcomings may help explain why he seems so uncertain around women.
- a strong sense of erotic desire. Despite his discomfort, Prufrock does seem capable of erotic arousal, as when he mentions
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!) (63-64)
(Notice that so far Prufrock has evaluated both himself and women in terms of physical appeal rather than in terms of anything more important or substantial. This may be part of his problem as a potential lover: his focus on the physical rather than the spiritual. Perhaps if Prufrock were a little less preoccupied with his own body and the bodies of women, he might find a suitable and truly loving partner.)
Even his later reference to squeezing “the universe into a ball” seems to allude to a highly erotic passage from Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” (92).
- a strong sense that women can be powerful and dismissive (97-98). Perhaps part of Prufrock’s problem is simply the choice of women with whom he associates. They seem to be women of the upper class, women who are not especially intelligent or deeply thoughtful, and women with social and artistic pretensions:
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michaelangelo. (35-36)
One can’t help but feel that it would be good for Prufrock to spend more time with different kinds of women than these – women devoted, perhaps, to some noble spiritual or moral calling, such as helping the poor, attending to the sick, or taking care of needy children. It might be good for Prufrock himself to begin volunteering at the Salvation Army, where he might meet a woman who would see and appreciate his true potential simply as a human being. :-)
At present, he seems as shallow and self-involved as the women with whom he associates.