“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot is a poem about a man who is extremely insecure with himself. Prufrock has an “inferiority complex” of sorts, rendering him unable to enter a romantic situation with women. He not only feels anxious around women, but also feels emotionally distant from the rest of society, causing him to live an awkward, lonely life, full of depression and gloom.
As I read this poem, I couldn’t help but notice how concerned Prufrock was with his appearance. He is described as having thin arms and legs (line 44) and “a bald spot in the middle of [his] hair” (line 40). Prufrock has quite obviously been scrutinized about his appearance before, as made clear by the following lines:
For I have known them all already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume? (lines 55-61)
From these lines, readers can see that Prufrock knows what it feels like to be judged by women and that this scrutiny makes him very uncomfortable, thus making it difficult for him to pursue any sort of relations with women. He even asks himself if he has “the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” (line 80), and after some tears and deliberation, he admits that “in short, [he] was afraid” (line 86). He keeps telling himself that there will be more time, “And time yet for a hundred indecisions, / And for a hundred visions and revisions, / Before the taking of a toast and tea” (lines 32-34). Prufrock keeps trying to convince himself that he has plenty of time to seize his opportunity with women, despite the fact that he “grow[s] old” (line 120).
Prufrock is not just worried about scrutiny from women, but perhaps from all of society. He expresses feelings of estrangement from society throughout the poem, which suggests to readers that he has a very gloomy outlook on his life as a human being. He even admits that he “should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas” (lines 73-74). At the end of the poem, Prufrock even seems to identify more with mermaids than he does with humans. Readers can see this by his use of the pronoun “we” when referring to the mermaids: “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown” (lines 129-130). These lines suggest that Prufrock wishes to escape humanity and live among the mythical or supernatural. In the final line of the poem, his fantasy world is shattered by humanity and comes crashing down: “Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (line 131).
Every reader reads and interprets poetry differently. These different interpretations give us thoughtful ideas and insights that we might not have otherwise found when reading the poem for ourselves. For this reason, I am including a brief, ten minute video below of another man’s commentary on “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in hopes that it will provide an interesting and somewhat different, if not almost opposite, “reading” of this poem than what I have provided here.
This man’s reading portrays Prufrock as a vain man who feels as though he is superior to the materialistic women described in the poem, and he seems to back up this idea with solid evidence from the poem. My reading portrays Prufrock as an insecure man who feels inferior to the women described in the poem and estranged by the society of his time, and I have provided the same amount of solid evidence from the poem to prove that my reading is plausible as well. No one reading of a poem is correct, which is exactly why I love literature so much!
In any case, I still think that Prufrock suffers from an inferiority complex when it comes to pursuing relationships with women, and I think that he feels estranged by society and wishes to leave humanity behind in favor of something more “magical.” Of course, his wish to leave humanity cannot be fulfilled, and Prufrock is forced to deal with his lonely reality.
**All poem citations are from this link: http://www.bartleby.com/198/1.html