J. Alfred Prufrock as a Modern Man

Thomas Sterns Eliot was the most celebrated poets. The Harvard graduate Eliot gives direction to modern literature in England and America. His poetry is the revelation of a new poetic technique in the modern age. He makes use of similes, metaphors, allusions and myth in his poetic technique to convey and compliment his theme.

He writes poetry of social criticism isolation, loneliness, frustration, indecision, boredom, etc diseases of modern life. His use of allusions, similes and metaphors creates an atmosphere of listlessness, depravity, inanity, moral bankruptcy, etc of modern society.

Eliot poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Waste Land” are significant of Eliot's use of images and the theme of spiritual crisis. His chronological and logical argument inspired a lot of imitators in reading his poems. 

Very often, his poem presents ideas and images as they might pass in our own mind. Eliot, in fact, gives us a picture of life in the post World War I Civilization. His picture of life includes details from the ordinary and solitary did reality of life.

His poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is an unconventional love poem. It rather makes a sensitive criticism of modern life and presents Prufrock as modern man. Eliot records the indecision, hesitation, postponement of the proposal of the lover.

Moreover, the poem is urban in theme and setting. It reveals the ugliness of the modern civilization. Prufrock is the protagonist of the poem who reveals his feeling of indecision, frustration and isolation which are in effect expressive of the barrenness of modern civilization.

T.S. Eliot presents an image of evening like “a patient etherised upon a table” to show the meaninglessness and inaction of his hero that he wanders through half-deserted street untill he prepares his mind to propose his beloved. He reaches the restaurant where he finds talking of Michael Angelo.

These ladies practically know wom nothing about art. But since it has become a fashion to talk about great painters, they talk about the most talented Italian painter Michael Angelo. Eliot, in fact, presents what goes on in the mind of Alfred Prufrock and thereby gives a fragmentary picture of modern civilization.

The hero is not in a hurry to propose. He rather dwells upon what goes in and around him. He is unable to free himself from the thought of trivialities of life-be is engrossed in the trivialities of life. He speaks of hundred indecision before taking of toast and tea. He is familiar with the trivialities of life and has measured out life with coffee spoon. At one time he is serious about his proposal but the next moment he postpones.

Eliot presents a caricature of modern man in the image of Prufrock. Prufrock wavers as to how he should begin wooing. He is aware of his arms, his legs, bald in the middle of aware of his hair and above all his growing old.

He is modest outwardly, lives a routine life but is subject to nervousness. There is a paralysing of his will. He suffers from a conflict whether he should propose or not. He denies that he is like Hamlet although he is inactive and indecisive like the Danish Prince. He likes the role of Polonious, an attendent lord, aging, self important talkative and at times like the Fool. Though he is old, he wants to appear young with fashionable dress.

In other words, the role Prufrock plays is insignificant and trivial, unlike the great affairs of Hamlet who wants to cleanse the ruling house of Denmark. In short, Prufrock suffers from a sense of belongingness. Eliot's allusion to Hamlet expresses Prufrock's view of life.

In Shakespeare's play the comic counterpart to the glorious prince is Polonious who is talkative and at times almost the Fool. Hence, Prufrock likens the role of Polonious and not that of the Prince. Prufrock says-

“No! I'm not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be; am an attendant lord”

Prufrock's indecision and nervousness in effect reflect the boredom and barrenness of modern civilization. The central problem with Prufrock is that he is unable to communicate and to make true human contact with others. He is nervous, timid and cowrdly. He longs for animal existence than to face human problems.

Man in the 20th century is unable to communicate. He is an introvert. Life for the modern man has become increasingly mechanical. The age has nothing concrete to offer. Man needs a strong pillar of spiritualism. 

All these have been adequately reflected in the character of Prufrock. A void spiritual state of Prufrock contributes to his indecisive state of mind and he wavers.
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