What universal messages are communicated in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The universal messages that are communicated in Eliot's poem remind us of the struggle to be human.

There is a struggle and it is real. This would be a universal message that J. Alfred Prufrock would echo.  One struggle in being human is the inability to communicate clearly.  Prufrock suffers from how his "love song" is rooted in a lack of clarity.  When he says,  “It is impossible to say just what I mean," it is a reminder of the difficulty in being human.  Prufrock represents how difficult communication can be.  Prufrock reminds us that we might not ever be able to say what we mean and mean what we say.  Instead, we are left with the universal message of finding it impossible to say what we mean. 

Another universal message communicated in the poem is that we might not be a towering force over other people.  Sometimes, other people might intimidate us.  Ideally, we would possess the aura of a Romantic poet. For example, Lord Byron never had a problem talking about himself or talking to a woman. Wordsworth possessed a clarity that enabled him to speak to anyone or anything.  People like Byron and Wordsworth were perceived by other people like giants.  They were who they were and nothing seemed to faze them.

Prufock however conveys the universal reality that some of us might not be a Romantic poet:

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair

We might want to think that we will embody the "seize the day" mentality in "carpe diem."  However, Prufrock demonstrates the universal reality that sometimes, we let the moment pass because we are intimidated by it.  We are afraid of how others perceive us. As a result, we are limited in what we can do.  In seeing Prufrock struggle, we recognize a universal condition.   We might want to be Byron or Wordsworth.  However, sometimes, we simply have to accept that we are Prufrock.  A universal message exists in this gap between what we wish to be and what we are.

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