What is the theme of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?

3 Answers

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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According to the enotes Study Guide on Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," three themes exist in the poem:

  1. Alienation and Loneliness
  2. Time
  3. Doubt and Ambiguity

The speaker is so alone and lonely that most likely, the "you and I" in the poem represents a dialogue with himself.  He is inept socially, and worries that he will feel "pinned and wriggling on the wall," like an insect being studied, simply from making eye contact with others. 

First, he knows there's time, then he knows that time is running out.  He worries that he will grow old with time and he will be a clown.  And magic and beauty and mermaids will never be for him.

The speaker is filled with doubt and ambiguity (as is the poem, of course).  He is like Hamlet, unable to overcome doubts and questions and indecision and actually do something.  He questions his own existence. 

This peom is extremely complex, but this short breakdown of the poem's themes should help you get a handle them.

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gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the main themes throughout the poem concerns a lack of self-esteem. Prufrock is obsessed with his own sense of inadequacy and insecurity. The speaker is extremely self-conscious and considers himself a failure. Prufrock is concerned about what others, particularly women, will think of him. Upon entering the room where women are discussing Michelangelo, Prufrock begins to worry about the bald spot in the middle of his hair. He also expresses his concern that the women will ridicule him for his thin arms and legs. The speaker does not dare confess his desires or express himself in front of these women because he fears being judged. Prufrock's lack of self-esteem creates a dilemma where he cannot ask a certain question. Throughout the poem, Prufrock is continually questioning himself and is filled with a sense of anxiety because he is self-conscious. Towards the end of the poem, the speaker expresses his pathetic existence by comparing himself to a crab crawling on the silent ocean floor. Prufrock admits that he is "not Prince Hamlet" and compares himself to Polonius. Prufrock's inadequate perception of himself leaves him powerless and unable to act upon his emotions.

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arkenya | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) eNoter

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What is an excerpt from "love song of j. alfred prufrock" that shows th theme