The “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a confused monologue of a lonely middle-aged man, filled with self-doubt and social paralysis as he contemplates proposing to his lady love. This is a poem about all the lost opportunities in Prufrock’s life. The poem depicts the various thought processes of the fictional character Prufrock as he wonders if he should have proposed to his lady love and what her reaction would be considering that he is far from a perfect person.
The poem starts with Prufrock proposing to his lady love to accompany him on a walk under the evening sky. Here “evening” is not just the time of the day but also the evening of Prufrock’s life as the very next line “like a patient etherized upon a table” (line 3) suggests. Although Prufrock is seemingly inviting the lady in question to accompany him on a walk, he realizes that he is no longer young and during his life, he has been part of many indiscretions some of which may have ended in “one-night cheap hotels” (line 6). This reflection about his middle age and his less than perfect past makes him drop the idea of asking the “overwhelming question” (line 10). Although Prufrock refuses to say what that question is, in my opinion, Prufrock wanted to propose marriage but the fear of refusal made him shy away from the question.
Throughout the poem, it is evident that he considers himself a minor player in the grand scheme of things and is paralyzed by the social setting in which he finds himself when he is with the lady in question. The reference to “the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michael Angelo” reflects his discomfort in this setting. And yet, when he wants to ask the woman to marry him, he is suddenly filled with fear and instead of asking her to accompany him through the roads of life, he changes the question and instead asks her to go to the place which the lady frequents.
Since the poem depicts the thought process of Prufrock, which can often be inconsistent, in the next stanza, he starts thinking about the pollution-laden “yellow fog” (line 15) and “yellow smoke” comparing it to an animal. However, his thoughts come back to the proposal he is considering, and wonders if there will be enough time in his life to spend with his lady love considering his age. He wants to spend time with her and meet all the people that she meets but wonders if he is wasting his time and should drop the “question on your plate” (line 30). But he is filled with a lot of self-doubts which lead him through “a hundred visions and revisions” (line 33).
He wonders if he dare pop the question and we realize that he is acutely aware of his balding head and his middle age. He is afraid that if he goes ahead and gets married then people will talk behind his back and refer to his thinning hair. He is also old fashioned wears his morning coat and collar mounted “firmly to his chin” (line 42) and a necktie which is “asserted by a simple pin” (line 43). Although rich, he is afraid that people might see behind the façade and recognize him for what he is: a less than perfect, middle-aged man with a balding head and thin arms and legs. The reference to thin arms and legs also suggests that Prufrock may not be in the best of health. These imperfections make him think again and again before popping the question.
Next, he wonders that if he is to go ahead and ask the question, how he should begin. He thinks of all the people who are his lady love’s friends and how they have already fixed him with their stairs and gaze. He is also aware that the lady in question is a beautiful woman with good-looking friends and all these thoughts make him “digress”. As he wonders how he should begin, his thoughts begin to wander. He wants to be a sea animal that crawls at the bottom of the sea and so is hidden from the world and does not have to worry about what people think.
Prufrock feels that although he has feelings of love for the lady she may not have similar feelings for him and if he were to propose marriage she may turn him down and say “That is not what I meant, at all” (line 110). He feels that on the stage of the world, he is not the main character, “Hamlet”, but just an “attendant lord” who has his functions which he is happy to carry out. He can perhaps elicit laughter or two but for the most time he is a politically correct person “cautious, and meticulous/ Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse” (line 117). Under the circumstance, would it be right to ask a beautiful woman to marry him?
Prufrock also wanders what is the right time to pop the question and fears that he is no prophet and does not know how the lady will respond to his proposal. These feelings are further deepened by his acute awareness of his advanced years and his realization of his mortality as evidenced in line 85, “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker”. This fear of death makes him question if it would have been worthwhile to have proposed marriage after all.
Prufrock is so full of self-doubt that he is afraid that even as moves towards his death in his old age, it would come to him slowly and his death itself would be uneventful. At a time when he would have to think twice before doing simple things such as eating a “peach”, can he expect a young beautiful to share her life with him?
Thus, the poem ends with Prufrock still unable to express himself as he is full of self-doubt because of his looks and age and feels that a young beautiful woman may not want to spend her life with him during his advancing years. Throughout the poem, Prufrock is looking for excuses why he should not propose rather than the reasons that he should propose. He is not only afraid that the lady would refuse to marry him but also of what people would think if he were to marry a young woman given his advanced years. Thus the poem ends with Prufrock still unable to express his love and instead of thinking about death, reflecting on the lack of self-confidence in Prufrock.