“But if in your fear you would seek only
love's peace and love's pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing floor,
Into the seasonless world where you
shall laugh, but not all of your laughter,
and weep, but not all of your tears.” – Kahil Gibran
Alienation can be a debilitating experience. The extent to which one imposes mental and
emotional boundaries of being is dependent upon personal choice. The persona of T.S. Eliot’s
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” seems to have relinquished his ability to choose the
magnitude of his participation in the realm of socialization. I purport that he has permanently
chosen to exist as that of an alienated observer rather than a partaker of life.
Throughout this astounding dramatic monologue, the reluctantly brilliant persona is the source
of his apprehension as it pertains to the progression of life. Caught in the inertia of analysis he
will not interconnect with society, “Do I dare /disturb the universe?” It is as if he is in search of
a guarantee that if and when he does venture to live and love; all will be perfect. He is his very
own companion and as such he is his own witness. He vacillates between the possibility of fully
attempting to live or to remain a voyeur from within. The unanswered interrogatives which adorn
his self-pontification tend to compound the insecurities which cement his sense of isolation.
Although he is presumptuous in anticipating time, “And indeed there will be time/to wonder,
do I dare? And Do I dare/ Time to turn back and descend the stair, /with a bald spot in the middle
of my hair,” the persona of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” subsequently does not view
himself as vital. He is saddened and immobilized by the inevitability of time descending upon
him “I grow old…I grow old…/I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” The apathetic
ponderings on how he will present himself as he ages:
“Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing each to each
I do not think they will sing to me…”
This stanza is disheartening. It clearly reveals his sense of devaluation as a man. His sense of
virility has dissipated and he is depressed to the point of utter despondency.
A result of his self-imposed alienation is deafness to the actual world around him. Thus,
during this internal state of silence he perceives the song of his virility to be lost. In light of his
slight mental affliction, it is possible that in reality the mermaids will sing to him. It is
conceivable that the pollution of his mind has simply interfered with his ability to hear their
singing. He may be prematurely mourning his sexual attractiveness. His extreme obsession with
“Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet-and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid…”
has caused him to abort his hope of ever being loved by anyone – even the mythical love of
mermaids. The fear of growing “old” has caused him to exile himself. Currently concerned with
how he is perceived by others as well as when he ages consumes his psyche and reinforces my
initial contention that he has chosen to exist as an alienated observer of life.
The persona of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is himself the voice of the infamous
they. Throughout the poem, he conveniently engages himself in conversation, “Let us go then,
you and I/When the evening is spread out against the sky…” As the persona has given complete
audience to himself, it would not be far-fetched to fathom that ” the chambers of the sea”
represent the domain of his own mind complete with the fantasy of “sea-girls wreathed with
seaweed red and brown/till human voices wake us, and we drown.”
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” could be representative of modern man’s self-
absorbed approach to societal living in which everything seems to be about him. He is so
suspended within himself that he is unable to truly engage in the world around him. He is out of
touch with humanity. In conclusion, the “human voices” disrupt the comfort within his sphere
of mental alienation. Surely, the culmination of his psychological paralysis is a "la petite mort.2"
Cheryl Farris Clayton