In Eliot’s 1917 poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, the reader is faced with the character of a man who desires to love, but who has lived so twisted a life that he is unable to change himself into a man who is truly able to give himself to others. The yearning within his voice is apparent, asking himself questions such as “do I dare to eat a peach?”, yet Prufrock remains distant from the women he encounters. It even appears that he is distant from himself, caught in the repetitive absurdity of “measuring out… life with coffee spoons” and casting himself very directly as “politic, cautious, and meticulous; Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— Almost, at times, the Fool.”
Although Prufock repeatedly questions “do I dare?”, in reference to romantic love, perhaps even love in general, it is obvious that he is too “afraid”, casting doubt on himself, influencing the reader to believe that he is past salvation. Constantly offering the reader images of superficial urban wealthy life, with the city streets, parted hair, coffee, intellectualizing, rolled trousers, novels, and teacups, Prufrock appears to be the image of the frozen elite, able to influence and to chatter, yet unable to live ethically and at ease with other people. The menial anecdotes of high society are no problem for Prufrock, but he has the problem of not being able to present his true thoughts and desires honestly, neither to others nor to himself.
Prufrock is bothered by the “women who come and go… talking of Michelangelo” with their “braceleted arms… downed with light brown hair”, women who give off the same aura of fancy, entertaining isolation, the character type which he himself resists, yet to which finds himself inextricably bound. Although Prufrock is surrounded by luxury and conveniences, intellectual thought and high class values, he knows that his life is empty and that he is unable to move into a feeling of true connectedness, warmth, or romance. He is scared to puncture the bubble of the charade of his life in the quest for love, and expects that if he were to try, then the women would not desire him, “not at all”.
Eliot, T. (1917). The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.