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love song of j. alfred prufrock

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"The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on." -Carl Sandburg In the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot has created a persona who can see the possibilities of life but is unable to give such ideas a spirit. The poem revolves around how he feels inadequate, how his hesitancy results in inaction which he then tries to rationalize. On one level the poem is a very personal one, about a sad and tormented man with his 'love song' for all to hear; wanting someone to see and understand his plight. On another level it is a criticism of modern society where meaningless social rituals prevail, and where individuals are repressed and alienated, and no longer in contact with a meaningful existence. Prufrock wasn't as much a persona of the poet but an "observation." The poem begins with an invitation by Prufrock to join him in his travels through a city that is growing increasingly modern, while Prufrock himself is afraid, or unable, to change with it. His description of the way he sees his environment can elucidate much about the character himself. He describes "cheap hotels," restaurants with sawdust on the floor, and frightening streets "that follow like a tedious argument / Of insidious intent". ...read more.


For that he must present a proper facade to those around him. This need to act in accordance with social expectations: 'prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet', is what is posing as a dilemma for the persona. All these factors force him to behave in socially prescribed, superficial ways. This alienates him from his 'other' self that aspires to live fully. A suspicious symbol works its way into the poem fifteen lines in, when Eliot introduces the concept of "the yellow fog." It is evening, foggy, and Prufrock's attention focuses on the fog mixed with chimney smoke, and then he takes off in a metaphorical process that equates the movement of the fog with the movement of some seemingly cat-like creature around the structure of the city at evening. Prufrock's lyrical musing here reflects the dream-like emotional state evoked by the fog. The reader may remember the Cheshire Cat from Lewis Carroll's "The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland". Initially, the reader can assume that the fog is symbolic of a cat, as its thoroughly described actions seem to mirror cat-like qualities. "The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes" appears clearly to every reader as a cat, but the cat itself is absent, represented explicitly only in parts -- back, muzzle, tongue -- and by its actions -- licking, slipping, leaping, curling. ...read more.


Prufrock admits he would like to 'murder and create' and to 'disturb the universe', but the safety of the comfortable routines is too hard to break free from. The fog-cat metaphor also relates to Prufrock's own timidness and sexual repression. The sexual connotations are implicit in 'Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening' gives way to 'Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.' Prufrock also prefers to retreat from action and desire, sleeping quietly rather than inviting sexual attention. It is in many ways a longing for the uncomplicated and instinctive life, rather than the turmoil of human society. This "etherised" outside world is the key to understanding all of Prufrock's views. He is afraid of the increasingly industrialized and impersonal city surrounding him, and he is unsure of what to do and afraid to commit to any particular choice of action The near repetitive use of "there will be time" signals that Prufrock's attention has returned from the imagined room to his actual surroundings. Prufrock's reverie on the smoke or fog reminds him that dreamed or imagined activity has no correlation to actions or events in real time, so he determines that just as there is time for the fog and smoke, there is time to get himself adjusted to what he is about to do. However, at the fourth repetition of "There will be time" he is once more focusing on where he is going and what he is about to do there, and he is overwhelmed once again. ...read more.

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