Theme of Paralysis in The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock

” ‘I grow old … I grow old … I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.’ What does that mean, Mr. Marlowe?”

“Not a bloody thing. It just sounds good.”

He smiled. “That is from the ‘Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ Here’s another one. ‘In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michael Angelo.’ Does that suggest anything to you, sir?”

“Yeah- it suggests to me that the guy didn’t know very much about women.”

“My sentiments exactly, sir. Nonetheless I admire T. S. Eliot very much.”

“Did you say ‘nonetheless’ ?” (Chandler 356-7)

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is one of the most influential poems of the twentieth century (Williams 49). It is certainly not a love song like any that had been written before. The second and third lines shock the reader because of their unusual imagery that would be out of place in a traditional love poem, describing the setting sunlit sky as looking “like a patient etherised upon a table” (Eliot 3). This “etherised” outside world is the key to understanding all of Prufrock’s views. He is afraid of the increasingly industrialized and impersonal city surrounding him, and he is unsure of what to do and afraid to commit to any particular choice of action (Mays 112). Paralysis is the main theme of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Eliot composed “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” during a period beginning in 1909, and ending with the culmination of his first published book, Prufrock and Other Observations, which was published in 1917 (Scofield 46). The changes he made over several years may account for the fragmentation of the poem, but the main theme of paralysis was ever present, and would continue to be a major theme of Eliot’s for much of his career (Scofield 46). Originally, the poem was titled “Prufrock Among The Women”, which was later adapted and used in “Sweeny Among The Nightingales”, and of course parodied E. B. Browning’s “Bianca Among the Nightingales” (Loucks 1). Eliot chose to use the more ironic title, of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” instead, echoing the form of his name that Eliot himself was using at the time, that of T. Stearns Eliot (Southam 1).

In 1909, Eliot completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard, and wrote what would be relatively unchanged in its final edition, the beginning of “Prufrock”, lines 1-14. The following year, Eliot traveled abroad to attend lectures at the Sorbonne, hearing Bergson at the Collège de France, and taking private lessons with Alain-Fournier. When he returned home a year later to read for his doctorate, he continued taking classes in Indic Philology, Sanskrit and Indian Philosophy, as well as Greek and Latin. He completed “Prufrock” as well as “Portrait of a Lady”, “Preludes”, and “Rhapsody on a Windy Night” (Moody xv).

After completing his doctorate, Eliot traveled to Great Britain to study at Oxford and met Ezra Pound. In June of 1915, at the suggestion of Pound, Eliot published “Prufrock” in Poetry magazine (Eliot Facsimile ix).

In 1917, Prufrock and Other Observations was published in Britain. Pound persuaded Alfred Knopf to publish it in America, which Knopf did after Pound’s agreement to have someone write a paper about his poetry. Pound chose Eliot to write this paper about him, which he did, but removed Eliot’s name from the draft, saying, “I want to boom Eliot and one cant [sic] have too obvious a ping-pong match at that sort of thing” (Eliot Facsimile xii).

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a dramatic poem by genre, because obviously Eliot himself was neither growing bald nor old when he began writing the poem at the age of twenty-one (Scofield vii). The Prufrock character is perhaps a middle-aged man, going through his mid-life crisis and examining the choices he’s made in his life. Most of all, he takes a look at his regrets, and his failure with women. The main tone of the poem is that of weary, ironic self-deprecation (Mays 110). Prufrock makes innumerable references to his growing bald, one of the more clever is the image of the grim reaper holding his coat for him so he can leave this world, and snickering at his bald spot (Rosenthal 79). He attempts to make himself feel young again, by rolling his trousers and parting his hair in a style that young people wear, but he knows that it is no use; he is growing old (Hammond 1). Prufrock’s fear of growing old contributed to his paralysis.

As evidenced by the title of the book in which it was first collected, Prufrock wasn’t as much a persona of the poet but an “observation.” The poem begins with an invitation by Prufrock to join him in his travels through a city that is growing increasingly modern, while Prufrock himself is afraid, or unable, to change with it. His description of the way he sees his environment can elucidate much about the character himself. He describes “cheap hotels,” restaurants with sawdust on the floor, and frightening streets “that follow like a tedious argument / Of insidious intent” (Eliot 3). The fog creeps up on the street as if it were a cat. The yellow lamplight obscures more than it illuminates. If he is afraid of the modern world that awaits him, why does he wish to enter it? To Prufrock, this world offers him “an overwhelming question” (Eliot 3). It is unclear whether or not he is physically traveling through the city, or whether he is describing the city so that the reader, his sole companion, may understand the environment that causes him such distress. The “you” that is mentioned in the opening line is most likely intended to be the reader. The epigraph preceding the poem, which is from Dante’s Inferno 27.61-66. suggests this. The lines are spoken by Guido da Montefeltro, who is a false counselor concealed within a flame, to Dante, who has entered Hell and is not expected to leave. The lines are translated:

‘If I thought my answer were given / to anyone who would ever return to the world, / this flame would stand still without moving any further. / But since never from this abyss / has anyone ever returned alive, if what I hear is true, / without fear of infamy I answer you’ (Ferguson 1230)

In light of this, it is apparent that we are like Dante and Prufrock is Montefeltro, and that his confessions are meant to be heard by only us. Since we aren’t able to escape the industrialized impersonal world any more than Prufrock is, he is safe to expose himself to us as fully as he is able.

The fragmentation of the images in the poem also shed some light on Prufrock’s fears. He rarely says what he means, if he is even sure of it himself. Instead, like the magic lantern throwing “patterns on a screen,” the poem “Prufrock” is like a set of slides, showing us Prufrock’s failures and experiences he’s collected (Jeff 1). Prufrock moves from streets to woman talking to images of woman and mythological creatures. There is no congruity in the poem.

The name “Prufrock” never appears in the poem, and instead the character asks himself if he should perhaps say he is Lazarus, and makes sure to mention that he is not Prince Hamlet (Eliot 6-7).

Prufrock is different than Hamlet in several ways. Hamlet, unlike Prufrock, is a man of action. He doesn’t ask himself questions like “Do I Dare?” because the thought of whether he dare or not never occurs to him (Hammond 1). Hamlet is also very young and sure of himself, while Prufrock is neither of these. Hamlet and Prufrock do share, however, in attempting to express the “inexpressibly horrible” (Rosenthal 83).

Prufrock is a character obsessed with time, most likely because his is running out. He continually tells himself “there will be time” in order to rationalize his lack of action. To this point he has “measured out his life with coffee spoons” to make a futile attempt to hang on to every moment that passes, even if he doesn’t do anything with the moments that he’s been given (Eliot 4). Prufrock is most likely middle aged, and going through his mid-life crisis, which Prufrock alludes to in line 80 by asking himself if he has “the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” (Eliot 6).

Prufrock wants to act and at first asks himself grandiose questions such as whether he “dare disturb the universe.” By the end of the poem, he is unsure if he has the will to do something less spectacular, like daring to “eat a peach” (Eliot 4-7). He asks us if he dares, to which the answer is invariably no.

The poetic form of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is an interesting one. As much as he breaks the traditions of the Romantic poets by introducing nightmarish imagery about the outside world, Eliot also breaks tradition in the unusual rhyme and meter of the poem. “Prufrock” is not written as free verse as is usually assumed, but:

tightly metrical blank verse with the five-stress lines frequently broken into two and three feet or one and four feet, these scattered about the poem, and with scattered rhyme throughout, and the standard blank verse resolving device (as in Shakespeare’s scenes) of a terminal rhymed couplet. (Williams 49)

By the end of the poem, Prufrock is imaging mermaids, or man’s ideal vision of women sitting on the beach, but even in his imagination they do not sing to him. When he is awakened from his daydream by a human voice, it is apparent that even in his fantasies Prufrock is paralyzed and non-active (Eliot 7). Paralysis is the key theme that runs through “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Works Cited

Chandler, Raymond. The Long Goodbye . New York: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992.

Eliot, T. S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Collected Poems 1909-1962 . New York: Harcourt Brace, 1963. 3-7.

Eliot, Valerie. Introduction. The Waste Land: Facsimile and Transcript . New York: Harcourt Brace, 1971.

Ferguson, Margaret, Mary Jo Salter, and Jon Stallworthy. The Norton Anthology Of Poetry . 4th ed. New York: Norton, 1996.

Hammond, Hans Talbot. “The T. S. Eliot Cluster.” Available Internet. 21 Feb. 1997.

Jeff. “Of Afternoons and Coffeespoons.” Available Internet 21 Feb. 1997.

Loucks, James. “Prufrock Among the Women.” 20 Feb. 1997. Posting to TSE Listserv. INT:[email protected]

Mays, J. C. C. “Early poems: from ‘Prufrock’ to ‘Gerontion’.” The Cambridge Companion To T. S. Eliot . Ed. David A. Moody. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. 108-120.

Moody, A. David. The Cambridge Companion To T.S. Eliot . Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.

Rosenthal, M. L. The Modern Poets . New York: Oxford UP, 1960.

Scofield, Martin. T.S. Eliot: The Poems . Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

Southam, B. C. “Annotations for The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock.” A Student’s Guide to the Selected Poems of T. S. Eliot .Available Internet 21 Feb. 1997.

Williams, Miller. “The Pleasures of Poetic Rhyme and Meter.” Writer’s Digest July 1996: 33-36, 49.

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

Allegory Of American Pie By Don Mc Lean

Ask anyone what was the defining moment in the rock history of the 1960s was and all you will get is a one word answer: Woodstock. The three day rock festival that defined an era was only one of many music festivals of the '60s. But Woodstock has come to symbolize, "an era of peaceful, free- loving, drug- taking hippie youth, carefree before harsher realities hit..." (Layman 40). The Woodstock festival ended a century filled with many metamorphoses of rock'n'roll, from the era of pop music to the rebirth of folk music to the invention of acid rock. But some cynics say that rock'n'roll died with the death of Buddy Holly before the 60s even began. One such person is Don McLean. The poet behind the haunting epic song about the death of 'danceable' music, McLean wrote the ever popular song, "American Pie" (appendix 1). The most important song in rock'n'roll history, "American Pie", is the song about the demise of rock'n'roll after Buddy Holly's death and the heathenism of rock that resulted. Although McLean himself won't reveal any symbolism in his songs, "American Pie" is one of the most analyzed pieces of literature in modern society. Although not all of its secrets have been revealed, many "scholars" of the sixties will agree that the mystery of this song is one of the reasons it has become so successful- everyone wants to know the meanings of its allegories. Proof of "American Pie's" truth lies in the allegory of the song. Many People enjoy the song but have no idea what it means- Who is the Jester? What is the levee? When the deeper story is found, the importance of the song is unearthed. "American Pie" is not only a song, it is an epic poem about the course of rock'n'roll...

Carl Orffs Philosophies In Music Education

While Carl Orff is a very seminal composer of the 20th century, his greatest success and influence has been in the field of Music Education. Born on July 10th in Munich, Germany in 1895, Orff refused to speak about his past almost as if he were ashamed of it. What we do know, however, is that Orff came from a Bavarian family who was very active in the German military. His father's regiment band would often play through some of the young Orff's first attempts at composing. Although Orff was adamant about the secrecy of his past, Moser's Musik Lexicon says that he studied in the Munich Academy of Music until 1914. Orff then served in the military in the first world war. After the war, he held various positions in the Mannheim and Darmstadt opera houses then returned home to Munich to further study music. In 1925, and for the rest of his life, Orff was the head of a department and co-founder of the Guenther School for gymnastics, music, and dance in Munich where he worked with musical beginners. This is where he developed his Music Education theories. In 1937, Orff's Carmina Burana premiered in Frankfurt, Germany. Needless to say, it was a great success. With the success of Carmina Burana, Orff orphaned all of his previous works except for Catulli Carmina and the En trata which were rewritten to be acceptable by Orff. One of Orff's most admired composers was Monteverdi. In fact, much of Orff's work was based on ancient material. Orff said: I am often asked why I nearly always select old material, fairy tales and legends for my stage works. I do not look upon them as old, but rather as valid material. The time element disappears, and only the spiritual power remains. My...

Johann Sebastian Bach Biography

Throughout the history of music, many great composers, theorists, and instrumentalists have left indelible marks and influences that people today look back on to admire and aspire to. No exception to this idiom is Johann Sebastian Bach, whose impact on music was unforgettable to say the least. People today look back to his writings and works to both learn and admire. He truly can be considered a music history great. Bach, who came from a family of over 53 musicians, was nothing short of a virtuosic instrumentalist as well as a masterful composer. Born in Eisenach, Germany, on March 21, 1685, he was the son of a masterful violinist, Johann Ambrosius Bach, who taught his son the basic skills for string playing. Along with this string playing, Bach began to play the organ which is the instrument he would later on be noted for in history. His instruction on the organ came from the player at Eisenach's most important church. He instructed the young boy rather rigorously until his skills surpassed anyone?s expectations for someone of such a young age. Bach suffered early trauma when his parents died in 1695. He went to go live with his older brother, Johann Christoph, who also was a professional organist at Ohrdruf. He continued his younger brother's education on that instrument, as well as introducing him to the harpsichord. The rigorous training on these instruments combined with Bach?s masterful skill paid off for him at an early age. After several years of studying with his older brother, he received a scholarship to study in Luneberg, Germany, which is located on the northern tip of the country. As a result, he left his brother?s tutelage and went to go and study there. The teenage years brought Bach to several parts of Germany where he...


Michelangelo was pessimistic in his poetry and an optimist in his artwork. Michelangelo?s artwork consisted of paintings and sculptures that showed humanity in it?s natural state. Michelangelo?s poetry was pessimistic in his response to Strazzi even though he was complementing him. Michelangelo?s sculpture brought out his optimism. Michelangelo was optimistic in completing The Tomb of Pope Julius II and persevered through it?s many revisions trying to complete his vision. Sculpture was Michelangelo?s main goal and the love of his life. Since his art portrayed both optimism and pessimism, Michelangelo was in touch with his positive and negative sides, showing that he had a great and stable personality. Michelangelo?s artwork consisted of paintings and sculptures that showed humanity in it?s natural state. Michelangelo Buonarroti was called to Rome in 1505 by Pope Julius II to create for him a monumental tomb. We have no clear sense of what the tomb was to look like, since over the years it went through at least five conceptual revisions. The tomb was to have three levels; the bottom level was to have sculpted figures representing Victory and bond slaves. The second level was to have statues of Moses and Saint Paul as well as symbolic figures of the active and contemplative life- representative of the human striving for, and reception of, knowledge. The third level, it is assumed, was to have an effigy of the deceased pope. The tomb of Pope Julius II was never finished. What was finished of the tomb represents a twenty-year span of frustrating delays and revised schemes. Michelangelo had hardly begun work on the pope?s tomb when Julius commanded him to fresco the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to complete the work done in the previous century under Sixtus IV. The overall organization consists of four large triangles at...

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin Ireland on October 16, 1854. He is one of the most talented and most controversial writers of his time. He was well known for his wit, flamboyance, and creative genius and with his little dramatic training showing his natural talent for stage and theatre. He is termed a martyr by some and may be the first true self-publicist and was known for his style of dress and odd behavior. Wilde, 1882 His Father, William Wilde, was a highly accredited doctor and his mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, was a writer of revolutionary poems. Oscar had a brother William Charles Kingsbury along with his father's three illegitimate children, Henry, Emily, and Mary. His sister, Isola Emily Francesca died in 1867 at only ten years of age from a sudden fever, greatly affecting Oscar and his family. He kept a lock of her hair in an envelope and later wrote the poem 'Requiescat' in her memory. Oscar and his brother William both attended the Protora Royal School at Enniskillen. He had little in common with the other children. He disliked games and took more interest in flowers and sunsets. He was extremely passionate about anything that had to do with ancient Greece and with Classics. Wilde during school years In 1871, he was awarded a Royal School Scholarship to Trinity College in Dublin and received many awards and earned the highest honor the college offered to an undergraduate, the Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, he also won the College's Berkley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford. After graduating from Oxford, Oscar moved to London with his friend Frank Miles, a well-known portrait painter of the time. In 1878 his poem Ravenna was published, for which he won the...

The History Of Greek Theater

Theater and drama in Ancient Greece took form in about 5th century BCE, with the Sopocles, the great writer of tragedy. In his plays and those of the same genre, heroes and the ideals of life were depicted and glorified. It was believed that man should live for honor and fame, his action was courageous and glorious and his life would climax in a great and noble death. Originally, the hero's recognition was created by selfish behaviors and little thought of service to others. As the Greeks grew toward city-states and colonization, it became the destiny and ambition of the hero to gain honor by serving his city. The second major characteristic of the early Greek world was the supernatural. The two worlds were not separate, as the gods lived in the same world as the men, and they interfered in the men's lives as they chose to. It was the gods who sent suffering and evil to men. In the plays of Sophocles, the gods brought about the hero's downfall because of a tragic flaw in the character of the hero. In Greek tragedy, suffering brought knowledge of worldly matters and of the individual. Aristotle attempted to explain how an audience could observe tragic events and still have a pleasurable experience. Aristotle, by searching the works of writers of Greek tragedy, Aeschulus, Euripides and Sophocles (whose Oedipus Rex he considered the finest of all Greek tragedies), arrived at his definition of tragedy. This explanation has a profound influence for more than twenty centuries on those writing tragedies, most significantly Shakespeare. Aristotle's analysis of tragedy began with a description of the effect such a work had on the audience as a "catharsis" or purging of the emotions. He decided that catharsis was the purging of two specific emotions, pity and...

Scholarship Essay About Goals

Ever since I was a young kid I have always been interested with aircraft. I was so curious of how airplane's fly. I remember taking my toys apart to see how it works. As a kid I wanted to go to the airport to watch the airplanes land and fly and pondered how this happens. Other kids wanted to go to the amusement places. As I grew older I became more and more interested in aircraft and the technology behind it. I always involved myself with aviation early on. I read books and magazines on aviation, took museum tours, built model airplanes. When I was younger my father would take me to aircraft repair facilities where I would watch in great fascination. In my teens, went up to the military bases and befriended many soldiers involved with aircraft and asked them numerous questions. I got to meet many aeronautics engineers and borrowed their old textbooks and read them till the wee hours of the morning. As technology improved with information superhighway, I logged on the web. Stayed up for hours and hours searching through web pages and web pages of information about aircraft and technology. I started my elementary school in the Philippines, then we moved to U.S. and continued my high school education and graduated. Enrolled at the CCSF to pursue my college education and now I am in the 2nd year in CCSF taking aeronautics. My goal now is to obtain my AS degree from the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) so I can transfer to a University and get a Bachelors degree and to continue for my Masters degree in Aeronautics Engineering. I will strive hard to reach the peak level of my career which is a Professor and hopefully to be an aeronautic professor so...

Circus Circus Enterprises Case Studies

Executive Summary: Circus Circus Enterprises is a leader and will continue to be in the gaming industry. In recent years, they have seen a decline in profit and revenue; management tends to blame the decrease on continuing disruptions from remodeling, expansion, and increased competition. Consequently, Circus has reported decreases in its net income for 1997 and 1998 and management believes this trend will continue as competition heightens. Currently the company is involved in several joint ventures, its brand of casino entertainment has traditionally catered to the low rollers and family vacationers through its theme park. Circus should continue to expand its existing operations into new market segments. This shift will allow them to attract the up scale gambler. Overview Circus Circus Enterprises, Inc founded in 1974 is in the business of entertainment, with its core strength in casino gambling. The company?s asset base, operating cash flow, profit margin, multiple markets and customers, rank it as one of the gaming industry leaders. Partners William G. Bennett an aggressive cost cutter and William N. Pennington purchased Circus Circus in 1974 as a small and unprofitable casino. It went public in 1983, from 1993 to 1997; the average return on capital invested was 16.5%. Circus Circus operates several properties in Las Vegas, Reno, Laughlin, and one in Mississippi, as well as 50% ownership in three other casinos and a theme park. On January 31,1998 Circus reported net income of 89.9 million and revenues of 1.35 billion, this is a down from 100 million on 1.3 billion in 1997. Management sees this decline in revenue due to the rapid and extensive expansion and the increased competition that Circus is facing. Well established in the casino gaming industry the corporation has its focus in the entertainment business and has particularly a popular theme resort concept....

Effect Of Civil War On American Economy

The Economies of the North and South, 1861-1865 In 1861, a great war in American history began. It was a civil war between the north and south that was by no means civil. This war would have great repercussions upon the economy of this country and the states within it. The American Civil War began with secession, creating a divided union of sorts, and sparked an incredibly cataclysmic four years. Although the actual war began with secession, this was not the only driving force. The economy of the Southern states, the Confederacy, greatly if not entirely depended on the institution of slavery. The Confederacy was heavily reliant on agriculture, and they used the profits made from the sale of such raw materials to purchase finished goods to use and enjoy. Their major export was cotton, which thrived on the warm river deltas and could easily be shipped to major ocean ports from towns on the Mississippi and numerous river cities. Slavery was a key part of this, as slaves were the ones who harvested and planted the cotton. Being such an enormous unpaid work force, the profits made were extraordinarily high and the price for the unfinished goods drastically low in comparison; especially since he invention of the cotton gin in 1793 which made the work all that much easier and quicker. In contrast, the economical structure of the Northern states, the Union, was vastly dependent on industry. Slavery did not exist in most of the Union, as there was no demand for it due to the type of industrial development taking place. As the Union had a paid work force, the profits made were lower and the cost of the finished manufactured item higher. In turn, the Union used the profits and purchased raw materials to use. This cycle...

Evaluation Of The Effectiveness Of Trade Embargoes

Although I am a strong critic of the use and effectiveness of economic sanctions, such as trade embargoes, for the sake of this assignment, I will present both their theoretical advantages and their disadvantages based upon my research. Trade embargoes and blockades have traditionally been used to entice nations to alter their behavior or to punish them for certain behavior. The intentions behind these policies are generally noble, at least on the surface. However, these policies can have side effects. For example, FDR's blockade of raw materials against the Japanese in Manchuria in the 1930s arguably led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which resulted in U.S. involvement in World War II. The decades-long embargo against Cuba not only did not lead to the topple of the communist regime there, but may have strengthened Castro's hold on the island and has created animosity toward the United States in Latin America and much suffering by the people of Cuba. Various studies have concluded that embargoes and other economic sanctions generally have not been effective from a utilitarian or policy perspective, yet these policies continue. Evaluation of the effectiveness of Trade Embargoes Strengths Trade embargoes and other sanctions can give the sender government the appearance of taking strong measures in response to a given situation without resorting to violence. Sanctions can be imposed in conjunction with other measures to achieve conflict prevention and mitigation goals. Sanctions may be ineffective: goals may be too elusive, the means too gentle, or cooperation from other countries insufficient. It is usually difficult to determine whether embargoes were an effective deterrent against future misdeeds: embargoes may contribute to a successful outcome, but can rarely achieve ambitious objectives alone. Some regimes are highly resistant to external pressures to reform. At the same time, trade sanctions may narrow the...