Thomas Eliot (1328 words) Essay

Thomas Eliot
Thomas Sterns Eliot wrote the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
over a period of six years and published it circa 1917 at the ripe old age of
twenty-nine. As his first published poem, ?Prufrock’ revealed Eliot’s
original and highly developed style. Its startling jumps from rhetorical
language to clich?, its indirect literary references, and its simultaneous
humor and pessimism were quite new in English literature. (World Book, 236)
Prufrock’s quest for a life he cannot live and a question he has difficulty
confronting is intriguingly played out in various aspects of his humanity. He is
doing battle in all aspects of his personality, which establishes him as a
neurotic character. Neurosis, as defined by the Thorndike/Barnhart World Book
Dictionary, is: any one of various mental or emotional disorders characterized
by depression, (“I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across
the floors of silent seas.”) anxiety, (“So how should I presume? / And how
should I presume? / And how should I begin? / And should I then presume?”) and
abnormal fears, (“Do I dare disturb the universe?”). The personality of
Prufrock embodies these characteristics. The physical, mental, and spiritual
aspects of his life are governed by this ailment. Its fingers entwine about his
very soul, affecting every area of his consciousness. Physically aging, this
thin, balding male is aware of his decaying image, thus more self-conscious and
less confident. This cannot be more clearly stated than in lines 40-45: 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!”) These physical insecurities prevent him from living
the life he longs for by distracting him from the things that have real meaning,
i.e., “Shall I part my hair behind” and “Do I dare to eat a peach?”
These are petty questions that he asks to avoid the “Overwhelming question.”
Prufrock is consumed with these insignificant details of his life. Prufrock
avoids life not only through trite physical worries, but through numerous mental
labors as well. These mental labors range from imagining himself as being
completely vulnerable “Like a patient etherized upon a table” to Prufrock
looking at the superficiality of his life. The lines “I have measured out my
life with coffee spoons”, “…setting a pillow or throwing off a shawl”,
and “I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” show the shallowness of
thought he uses to avoid coming to terms with his old age. Prufrock is a lonely
man. In the poem, there is no evidence of any relationship outside of the one he
has with himself. He makes references to “…restless nights in one-night
cheap hotels” and “women [that] come and go.” He desires intimate
relationships, yet lacks the courage and self-confidence to even begin to pursue
love. His humanity and dignity cannot fully be realized without it. Prufrock
fancies himself to be someone who has known it all ? the evenings, the
mornings, the afternoons, the eyes, the arms. His pride leads him to believe
that he someone that he is not. Prufrock believes that life is superficial, but
he alone is deep. He may not be Prince Hamlet, yet he is still advisor to the
Prince. This is not a lowly job. He speaks highly of himself when he states “
Deferential, glad to be of use, / Politic, cautious, and meticulous.” Proud as
he is, however, Prufrock eventually states the inevitable. He admits to being
“Almost, at times, the Fool.” With this confession, his pride crumbles and
he surrenders to the realization of his mortality. The very next lines emphasize
the gravity of this new awareness, “I grow old… I grow old…” Here lies
the turning point of his worldview. Prufrock once had “Time to turn back and
descend the stair,” but now time is running out. Throughout the poem,
Prufrock’s concept of time changes. Initially, he takes time for granted:
There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that
you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works
and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and
time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions
and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea. There are two significant
incidents in the poem that cause Prufrock to alter his view on time. The first
is when he asks the question “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?” Immediately
after posing this question “…there is time [only] For decisions and
revisions which a minute will reverse”, implying that he realizes his time is
limited. Second, he comes to the understanding that he plays the part of the
Fool, which arouses the realization that he is almost out of time. This
awareness leads him to the “Overwhelming question”: What happens after time
runs out? Fingers entwining about his very soul, Prufrock’s neurosis leads him
again and again to peer into the face of death. He has “…seen the eternal
Footman hold [his] coat, and snicker.” In short, he was afraid. “The eyes
that fix you in a formulated phrase” are the eyes of God calling him to
account for his life; “Then how should I begin / To spit out all the butt-ends
of my days and ways?” The mental image of being “…pinned and wriggling on
the wall” suggests that Prufrock is terrified of the time when he will be held
accountable. (Although at the earliest reading these lines may not appear to
have any profound meaning, in light of the overall context of the poem this
interpretation has sufficient validity.) His neurosis makes him the master of
his own hell. As unorthodox as these views on Prufrock may be, there are
credible sources that substantiate the above theories. Prufrock’s
concentration on physical concerns is highlighted in several quotes: “Wanting
nothing less than the ability to fully articulate and control an image of
himself, Prufrock is afraid of both himself and others. (McNamara, 203),
“Prufrock is bothered by the women’s opinion of his appearance…he is
merely hoping that by conforming to the standards expected by society he may be
able to keep the backbiting women at bay.” (Bagshee, 192) Literary support for
Prufrock’s mental state of both anxiety and emotional denial is overwhelming.

There is “…the real sense of isolation, of loneliness, that exists under the
surface.” (Bagchee, 187) The quotes “It is as if his mind were gradually
convulsed with spasms of suffering and then were intermittently rallied with a
mythology of self-esteem, only to succumb each time to more rational despair.”
(Smith, 220) and “…this sinister, slithering, and self-willed street is an
active agent of the anxiety that haunts the protagonist.” (Bagshee, 191) paint
the dark picture of a disconsolate man. “The self and the self-image can never
coincide… and the result is an interminable anxiety which can only
increase.” (Ayers, 212) Robert McNamara describes Prufrock’s pathology
perfectly when he asserts: “Prufrock” treats the disease in the only way
Eliot acknowledged it could be treated: ?the only cure for Romanticism is to
analyze it.’ Rhetoric is pathological, in Eliot’s view, when it becomes
vehicle for evading feeling [and] for creating self-satisfying illusions. This
is exactly what Prufrock does. His over-analysis of every minute detail is a
vain attempt to shirk the “question.” “Surely the “overwhelming
question” is there in the poem…” (Dyson, 184) “In his absurd and
pointless life the encounter with this question is likely to be the only
significant thing to happen to Prufrock… The point of the intersection between
time and eternity… So far his life has been far from remarkable and he knows
that… Prufrock needs something that is infinite.” (Bagshee, 192) The fear of
being accountable for a wasted, superficial life is the reason he has difficulty
confronting the ultimate question. T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Love Song of J.

We will write a custom essay sample on
Thomas Eliot (1328 words) Essay
or any similar topic only for you
Order now

Alfred Prufrock”, has challenged me to explore the frontiers of my emotions.

With delight I consumed each line in hope of a deeper discovery. I am thankful
to have had the opportunity to study such a profound poet. This process will
better equip me with essential.


Hi there, would you like to get such a paper? How about receiving a customized one? Check it out