The poem describes the meaninglessness of life as captured in man’s view of himself, of others, and of the world. Meaninglessness pertains to the state of human life that favors the unessential over the essential, of form over substance, which is exposed as a problem that has become unsolvable for man. Thus, the poem stresses on the downfall of human intellect as the primary cause of man’s inability to understand the true meaning of life.
It is the goal of this essay to explore the main theme discussed by examining the character of Alfred Prufrock and how he views himself, other people, and human life in general.
Firstly, Alfred Prufrock is characterized by his indecision, his ineffectuality, and his incapacity to act due to over-thinking. This is expressed perfectly in his ‘love story’. It is apparent in the poem that Prufrock has difficulty mustering his confidence due to having troubled relationships with women. As highlighted in the essay entitled Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it is emphasized that Prufrock feels some awkwardness contemplating on the female sexuality, as he brooded over the woman’s “light brown hair” (64). The same behavioral act can be seen in his peevish reaction as he imagines the woman responding to his marriage proposal: “That is not what I meant at all” (97). In a different light, Prufrock’s lack of confidence can be attributed to his sensitivity to the impressions that other people may have of him—for whom he had to “prepare a face” (29).
It is important to note, moreover, that this definitive character of Prufrock serves as a reaction to the kind of people surrounding him. For this, we now turn to the second part of the discussion.
The people are marked by futility as essentially implied in the depiction of the room filled with “voices dying with a dying fall” (52), in which their talk seems meaningless, and the voices interchangeable that come and go without distinction. As explained further in an essay dedicated to the poem entitled Human Voices and Silent Seas, Prufrock willfully excludes himself from the people, until he is “pinned and wriggling on the wall” (58) like a lifeless creature. In this sense, the disorientation of Prufrock as his defense mechanism against the current situation is caused by the people’s senseless conversations, which is more evidence in this line:
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning of windows? (70-72)
Therefore, his lack of confidence is attributed to the shallowness of the people around, who value physical attributes more than anything else. Because of this, Prufrock had to feign confidence and “dare” ascend the stairs rather than “turn back” (38-39).
At this point, let us now turn to the last part of the essay which highlights Prufrock’s view of life in general. For this, it can be stated that life is depicted as stale and silent, as reinforced by the narration of Prufrock’s world.
Most of Prufrock’s evenings bear the lifeless aspect of a “patient etherized upon a table” (3). Also, the singer of his love song has “a bald spot in the middle” of his “hair” (40); his “arms and legs are thin!” and he is “afraid” (86). Furthermore, the streets he travels “follow like a tedious argument Of insidious intent (8-9). All of these culminate in this line which announces the staleness of his life, having “measured out life with coffee spoons” (51).
The primary driver behind the meaninglessness of life is linked to the people themselves, who seem to be random and hapless. There is no direction in their way of life, thus, having a world that lacks naturalness and authenticity. This view is shared in the work entitled The FOOL in the Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock as it states the shallowness of the world as it is filled by people whose eyes fix Prufrock in a “formulated phrase” (56) and whose voices comments on the thinness of his legs (44).
It is clear therefore that throughout the poem the author conveys the meaninglessness of life, not because life in itself does not have meaning, but because man has shifted his attention to unessential things. The call to action presented by the author is the reflection of the sublime, of the infinite, and of the metaphysical. It is only through a reflecting soul that man is able to know precisely what life is about and what life truly is for.
“The Fool in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Jstor.org. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011. Web. 2 October. 2011.
“Human Voices in Silent Seas: A Reading of Eliot’s Love Song”
“Eliot’s THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK and Shakespeares HAMLET”
“Cambridge Dictionaries Online”. Dictionaries.cambridge.org. Cambridge University Press, 2011. Web. 5 September. 2011.
“Assessing Europe’s University-Based Research”. Kowi.de, 2008. European Commission, 2008. Web. 5 September. 2011