At what time in the speaker's life does "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" mainly take place?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot is notable for its narrator, who is quite obviously middle aged. This sets up a deliberate and ironic contrast with the generic expectations of the love song which is normally associated with younger people.

The first clue we find is in the name "J. Alfred Prufrock" which seems rather more a name that would appear on a business card than the name of a young lover. The social event at which the women talk of Michelangelo again is a distinctly middle-aged setting, in which people dress formally and indulge in polite conversation about cultural events. 

Next, we have the self-description of the narrator descending a staircase and mentioning "a bald spot in the middle of my hair," and people commenting on how his hair is thinning, again features of middle age. 

Finally, in several places in the poem the speaker reflects on his past in a manner that suggests he regrets not having seized opportunities in early adulthood for which he now considers himself too old.

kblit77 | Student

The speaker in T.S. Eliot's  poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is no longer a young man, and has passed the prime of his life. Now, as he heads further into middle age, he is remembering chances and occasions in his life that he will never again have because he could not act. The years of his life have moved too quickly and as he ages, he fears his inevitable death: "I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker / And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker / And in short, I was afraid."

There are several references to signs of physical age. The speaker often points out his bald spot, or thinning hair and actually states, "I grow old... I grow old..."

This is not happy poem, or a love poem. It is a poem of desperate longing and bitter resentment.

Read the study guide:
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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