illustration of a woman holding a glass of wine and a man, Prufrock, standing opposite her

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

by T. S. Eliot

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How does the frequent use of fragmentation in the poem relate to Prufrock's nature?

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Prufrock is timid and unable to find a satisfying place in his culture to achieve his creative potential. He is also depressed, as indicated early in the poem when he compares the sky to a patient etherized on a table.

Depressed people often can't concentrate and have fragmented thoughts. But beyond that, Prufrock's nature seems to be that of a person who is unable to strike out decisively in any one direction. He keeps hesitating. And while he dithers, time keeps passing. He is aware of this but keeps reassuring himself that

There will be time, there will be time . . . .

He uses the word "time" frequently, but the bald spot on his head and the fact he is tired and jaded from his endless round of parties indicates he is middle-age and his time is running out.

The fragmented quality of the poem is also reflected in the line

Do I dare
with the line stopping there. What does Prufock dare? Apparently, nothing. He continues by asking if he dares
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
The above lines show the fragmentation in Prufrock's nature. He can't make up his mind. He is constantly reversing himself. In this way, he has been likened to the fragmented "lost generation" that came of age after the alienating experience of World War I.
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For Eliot, as for other poets of the period, fragmentation was an essential part of the modern condition. Fragmentation resulted from the breakdown of cohesive social structures and cultural heritage,which left behind only fragments, of the sort that archaeologists might recover from an ancient site. This is an image crystallized in Eliot's self-reflexive comment in "The Wasteland": "these fragments I have shored against my ruins."

For Eliot, one especially important element of this fragmentation was what he termed the "dissociation of sensibility," or the splitting of feeling from thought in literary expression. He saw this as problematic both on a personal and a literary level. Prufrock exemplifies this in his inability to integrate his obsessive overthinking with his emotions, leading to emotional impotence and incapacity for relationships.

Prufrock himself seems to be an emblem of the upper-middle-class conventional man of his period, who was brought up in a world with more cohesive experiences and social mores. This world, in which he would hold a professional job, court a respectable woman of his own class, and end up in a stable marriage, has vanished, and his experience of life and relationships is one of incoherent fragments which do not seem to fit together or have any point or purpose. The fragmentary nature of the poem gives the reader insight into this psychological state, in which Prufrock views the world around him as incoherent and disintegrating.

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Prufrock is really supposed to represent modern man; his thoughts, while seemingly unconventional in the way they present themselves on the page, really are not. Are his thoughts much more fragmented that our own? His thoughts may move from one to another, but they do so in a way that mimics our thought process. Prufrock moves from one doubt to another, and his seemingly random observations are rooted in his past and his insecurities, just like ours are. This poem's fragmentation does serve to display Prufrock's indecisive, second-guessing, and pessimistic nature, but it more importantly mirrors the fears and uncertainties we all posses. He is the quintessential modern man, and his fragmented and often unsure voice is proof of it.

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A very focused question. I would describe the poem's use of the theme of fragmentation as somewhere between symptomatic and definitive. By that I mean, both Prufrock and his world are fragmented. He can't really connect with the women he sees, the conversations he hears, the city he walks through, or the mermaids he hears. The fragmentation in the poem—the worries, the interruptions, the repetitions—all sum up his relation to the world, and communicate a sense of it to us as readers.


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