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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What is the symbolism of eating a peach in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"?

Quick answer:

In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," Prufrock asks, "Do I dare to eat a peach?" Eating a peach is a symbol of taking a carefree, spontaneous approach to life. This is exactly what J. Alfred Prufrock has never dared to do, given the indecisions that plague him throughout the poem.

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As it is presented in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," to eat a peach is to take a risk, seize an opportunity, or live life to the full.

The eponymous speaker asks toward the end of the poem, "Do I dare to eat a peach?" He has already described the type of genteel social rituals in which he wastes much of his life, most of which involve eating and drinking. It has long been the practice of polite society to use the formal codes surrounding meals as a test of whether newcomers belong in that milieu. Etiquette books are full of warnings about those who drink from finger bowls or do not know which knife and fork to use. Prufrock has spent his life in such circles, where table manners are closely watched and judged.

A peach is a difficult fruit to eat and very nearly impossible to eat elegantly. The skin is relatively thick and fuzzy, requiring a forceful bite which is likely to make juice spray everywhere. If peaches were served at one of the tea parties Prufrock attends, he would have to dissect it carefully with a fruit knife and eat it with a fork, an approach perhaps analogous to measuring out one's life "with coffee spoons."

To eat a peach in a carefree manner, enjoying the sweetness and letting the juice go where it will, is a symbol of just what Prufrock has always missed in life, given his indecisive and timid nature.

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