Prufrock’s uncertainty

T. S. Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock seems to convey Prufrock’s anguish as he battles with the inability to convey his feelings to women. He struggles with the possibility that they could perhaps reject him, but what he seems most terrified of are “the eyes that fix [him] in a formulated phrase” (Elliot 56).  He fears the look of judgment from others.  He metaphorically expresses how he would feel like a bug “pinned and wriggling on the wall” which demonstrates how he feels belittled and worthless (8).  By comparing himself to a bug, he reveals his extreme insecurities for a bug is tiny, insignificant and easily exterminated without guilt.

In addition he demonstrates great uncertainty in that he is always questioning himself with phrases such as “Do I dare?”, “Shall I say”, and “would it have been worth it, after all” (38, 70, 87).  The poem suggests that his anxiety stems from this uncertainty.  Because he does not know what the outcome would be if he expressed himself, it is as if he is caught between two conflicting consequences: relief or embarrassment.  This unresolved tension causes him to lead a life of despair and isolation.  The excerpt from Dante’s Inferno accurately expresses his extreme timidity; the speaker will only divulge his shame because he has absolute certainty that Dante will not tell others. Therefore, he can say what is on his mind “without fear of infamy”.  Elliot uses this poem to emphasize how extreme Prufrock’s fears are and possibly to suggest that Prufrock’s inability to express his feelings and opinions is his hell. 

The poem ends in a somber tone for he has not dealt with his conflicting feelings.  The last few stanzas begin with “And would it have been worth it”, suggesting that he never spoke out (87, 99).  He spent his life as an outsider like a crab “lingering in the chambers of the sea” living among the beautiful, tempting sea-girls who will never sing to him (129). It is implied that he dies old and alone.

The depressing nature of this poem suggests Elliot’s message is that fear must be conquered in order to become someone and find identity or a person runs the risk of dying alone and unnoticed like a crab or a bug with not identity at all.  Prufrock never found certainty in his life and therefore never became anything more than a nameless “attendant” (112).  Identity is discovered and developed with certainty and concrete definitions which require that one assert himself.  Identity can never be defined if one is constantly in the state of doubt and hesitation.

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2 Responses to Prufrock’s uncertainty

  1. atellez says:

    I just read the previous blog post and I see that I have some very similar ideas in my post. Sorry! I did not intend to regurgitate what was already said.

  2. Kellyn Campbell says:

    Although I agree with your assertion that “fear must be conquered” or “a person runs the risk of dying alone and unnoticed like a crab or a bug” is a major theme in this poem, I do not believe that this fear and inability to take action keeps Prufrock from developing his own identity. I found that the uncertainty of Prufrock’s character servs as an identity in itself. He is unsure of what is going on around him and afraid to take definitive actions, but this uncertainty becomes his way of life and he lets it define him. Inaction can have just as dramatic an effect as action, shown by the effects Prufrock’s doubt and inability to act with conviction has on him. He states “I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker” (Eliot 84) suggesting that he has at least glimpsed success but it is his inability to take advantage of his opportunities and fear of being judged – as reiterated in the lines “My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin -/(They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’)” (43-44) – that shapes his sense of self. He resignes himself to being an observer rather than acting on his impulses for fear of failure. This becomes his identity and he uses it to hide from greater possibilities in his life rather than striving for more.

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