In the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T. S. Elliot, Prufrock is a man that is pessimistic, has low self-esteem, and has much internal conflict. He believes that he isn’t good enough for the women of his desire; this theme also becomes a motif. The epigraph of the poem is an excerpt from Dante’s Inferno, in which that the perfect audience could only be someone who would never be allowed into the real world where that person(s) might reveal Prufrock’s idiosyncrasies.
This of course is impossible so therefore he must settle on a personal reflection, thus creating an interior dialogue. This in effect sets a mood of isolation giving the reader some foreshadowing in to what the poem will be about. The image of “a patient etherized upon a table” and “half-deserted streets” gives a more gloomy setting and adds to the isolation set forth by the epigraph. On lines 55-58, Prufrock compares himself to an insect being on display for all to poke and prod. This is how he will feel if he where to ever try and talk to one of the girls that he is so fascinated with.
The yellow fog described on lines 15-25, refer to a giant cat spreading into every crevice and nook, spreading out enveloping everything in its path; the color yellow is used to show the fog is somehow tainted giving the feeling of being smothered. The lines “In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo” are repeated because it is this person that Prufrock compares himself to. Michelangelo did many paintings and sculptures and was involved with the church giving him and his work a divine quality, Prufrock on the other hand hasn’t done anything of the sort.
In the eyes of Prufrock he could never compare with Michelangelo, therefore he could never be the object of the women’s conversations much less their desires or hearts. The repetition of the lines “how should I presume? ” and “how should I begin? ” exemplify Prufrocks inability to commit and his overall pessimistic outlook. “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas,” (lines 73-74) these words are an allusion to the crab. This is significant not in the way the crab looks or its shape but in its direction of movement; instead of moving forwards like most animals, it moves sideways.
When related to Prufrock it means that he really never goes anywhere he just sits there oscillating in his mind whether to go up to the ladies or not, but never actually goes forward and does it. The rhyme scheme for this poem includes end rhyme, “streetsretreats” (lines 4-5), internal rhyme, “decisions and revisions” (line 48), and slant rhyme, “meet create” (lines 27-28). At the end of the poem it is structured most like an English sonnet. The evidence for this is in the last two lines that both rhyme and conclude the poem.
The last line meaning that when the outside world gets involved, “till the human voices wake us” the dream or fantasy is ruined “we drown. ” Prufrock believes the women will put him down by making insults such as “how his hair is growing thin! ” and “how his arms and legs are thin! ” Prufrock is completely terrified by this ordeal of talking to the women, that he goes on to say “though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed, though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter”; this allusion to John the Baptist is used on purpose, for the reason that it was he who was beheaded by the orders of a woman.
This is what he believes would happen to him if he were to engage in a conversation with one of the women. “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;” this pronouncement shows again just how Prufrock sees himself, a minor character in the story of his own life. “I have heard the mermaids singing” the mentioning of mermaids is another allusion to the Sirens of Greek mythology. In Greek mythology the Sirens were nymphs who would sing on top of a cliff on their island and lure in sailors, but as the sailors rowed closer they would smash against the jagged rocks causing a shipwreck and then drown.
This is what Prufrock feels what the women will do to him. He will never find out if any of these events will take place however, because he doesn’t have enough courage to approach any of the women; so he goes on and on only dreaming of the horrors that might occur if he asked one of the women, instead of just conquering the fear and initiating a conversation. He spends his whole life contemplating ‘what if’ scenarios “growing old” (line 119) alone.