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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Understanding Prufrock's love and age in T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Summary:

In T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," Prufrock's love is intertwined with his sense of aging and inadequacy. He is acutely aware of his advancing age, which exacerbates his feelings of insecurity and indecision about expressing his romantic desires. His self-consciousness and fear of rejection prevent him from pursuing love, highlighting his internal struggle between desire and self-doubt.

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Is Prufrock genuinely in love in T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?

J. Alfred Prufrock is not in love with a person in the poem. In fact, the speaker seems quite alone.

One of the hallmarks of Prufrock is that he's not really sure of anything. He wanders around looking for something solid to anchor himself with but is unable to completely do so. Still, he's wandering through the world around him; he keeps moving as he looks for—and doesn't find—connection and meaning.

There is no mention of a specific love interest in the poem. He mentions "you" when he talks about going together, but who that "you" is isn't clear. It could be a love interest, the reader, or a friend, for example. Despite that, Prufrock seems isolated and separate from everyone in the poem. He doesn't speak to anyone. He's too scared to make choices.

There's simply no indication that Prufrock is in love.

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Is Prufrock genuinely in love in T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?

In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot, the narrator of the poem is unreliable in an odd way. He is not untrustworthy in the sense of being imperceptive or deceitful or insane; he perceives the world around him clearly and struggles to find truth in it, but he has a major character flaw of indecisiveness. This appears not only with respect to his actions, but also his judgments and interpretations of his perceptions. In other words, although he has certain feelings about the woman, as well as trying to decide whether to reveal his feelings to her, he also has difficulty trying to assess the precise nature of his own emotions. Prufrock himself is not entirely sure whether this is momentary lust, romantic love, or just loneliness and desire for companionship, and thus part of his ambivalence about expressing his feelings is his own uncertainty as to the nature of the feelings. So even Prufrock himself does not really know if he is genuinely in love or not.

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How old is Prufrock in T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock?

In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot, we have several pieces of evidence concerning the age of Prufrock. Some are implicit. For example, his caution, primness, concern with propriety, and general self-presentation give him the character of a middle-aged man. As well, though, we have several explicit references to his age.

The most significant passage is:

Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the
     chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a
     simple pin—
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are
     thin!"]

This physical description suggests middle age. Prufrock is not feeble (he descends the stairs unaided) and yet his legs and arms show his age. He is starting to grow bald, but the process is still in progress, and thus again we have a sense of middle rather than old age. His sartorial choices also reflect an upper middle class middle age.

The second passage of relevance is:

  I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

          Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a
               peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon
          the beach.

Again, one sees that Prufrock is growing, but not, yet old, thus suggesting middle age.

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