Prufrock Paralysis The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, written by T. S. Eliot, is a truly depressing poem. The poem concerns with a character (Prufrock) that can see and understand the values in life – love, joy, companionship, and courageousness – but is unable to act on his longings. The poem shows constant struggles of Prufrock’s uselessness. The worst part about his uselessness is that he is conscious of it. T. S. Eliot uses the theme of Paralysis, the incapacity to act, throughout the whole poem. Eliot uses the theme of paralysis to demonstrate Prufrock’s struggle his social, maybe even sexual, struggles.
Prufrock is a middle-aged man, who seems to be going through a mid life crisis, and is afraid to commit to anything. He lives such a depressing life. From the start of the poem, the readers can see a sense of paralysis in Prufrock. “Like a patient etherized upon a table,”(603). Ether was once used as an anesthetic, which is a drug that puts patients to sleep for surgeries. The use of ether in line three has two different meanings to it. The first being how Prufrock views himself; he feels as if he cannot achieve anything, as if he is in a constant state of being etherized.
The second use of “being etherized,” is that he incapable of relating to the beauty of the world, which is an immensely depressing thought to have. This is a constant struggle with Prufrock because he always feels as if he is not good enough. Beauty plays a crucial role in Prufrock’s paralysis. His constant thoughts of not being beautiful enough, and always feeling as people are judging him, make him feel not strong enough; thus leading to not being able to pursue anything. “With a bald spot in the middle of my hair – (They will say: ‘how is hair is growing thin! ’),”(604).
The readers get a clear image of what Prufrock looks like. He is a somewhat of an old man. The readers can see from this quote how Prufrock has little to no confidence in himself at all. Look at the line “they will say,” this is a clear image of Prufrock’s fear of being judged. He does not feel good enough, which explains his reason for him to “Descend the stair,” (604). He descends the stair, because Prufrock is too nervous and does not feel youthful enough or beautiful enough to pursue any social activity. The use of questions throughout the poem shows Prufrock’s indecision.
Eliot uses questions as a way to show how Prufrock escapes having to act with courage and decisiveness. “I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? ” (606). Here, the reader see’s that Prufrock knows he is getting old, and by saying he will wear his trousers rolled and part his hair, he wants to appear young. Appearing young to him, means being beautiful, thus being noticed by others. Prufrock has not motivation at all, and no confidence in himself. All of this contributes to his paralysis.
Posing questions like “do I dare eat a peach” and “shall I part my hair to the side,” shows Prufrock accepting his flaws and in the end, making himself less motivated and somewhat depressed. A perfect example of Prufrock’s depression, lack of confidence, and absolutely no motivation at all, is when Eliot writes about mermaids. “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me,” (607). Eliot presents a clear image of Prufrock recalling a time of listening to mermaids sing to each other, but not singing to him.
Interesting how he believes that a fictional and mythological creature will not even notice him. Prufrock has zero self-confidence thinking that a mermaid will not bother to sing to him. This leads to his paralysis; If a fictional being will not even take the time to notice him, why waste time with humans? Aside from beauty, the feeling of always being watched, judged, and analyzed plays a monumental role in Prufrock’s paralysis. Eliot uses an insect metaphor to illustrate how Prufrock feels judged by everyone all the time. And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, when I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,”(605). The quote here shows an image of an insect being pinned up on a wall, ready to be inspected and analyzed. The insect metaphor used here reveals Prufrock’s state of misery. He sees himself as being painfully trapped by the thoughts of others, as if his actions are constantly being watched. Prufrock feels pressured to be accepted, and most of that pressure comes from him. Constantly thinking that he is not welcomed and not good enough for anybody. Do I dare disturb the universe,” (605). Eliot uses this question to depict a clear example of how Prufrock feels about himself, by stating that his presence disturbs the universe. This blends two fundamental ideas in the poem where Prufrock is, as usual, constantly being self-conscious of his own actions and what he thinks he is supposed to act in social gatherings. “Prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet,”(604). Prufrock believes that he must ‘prepare a face’ so that he can be accepted by the people is about to be around.
Prufrock thinks being himself when meeting people is unacceptable, and in order to be socially accepted he must prepare himself to become someone he is not. All these factors restrict him, causing him to be in a greater state of paralysis. When one is drowning, they are downright hopeless. The same thing goes with paralysis; when one is in the state of paralysis, they are hopeless and cannot do anything. Eliot does a fantastic job creating an image of Prufrock drowning in a pool of criticism and judgment. “Till human voices wake us, and we drown,” (607).
Here, the use of drowning is not literal, he is not drowning it water, but drowning from stress. The human voices wake up Prufrock to reality, and he cant handle it. One can only handle so much, and by the end of the poem Prufrock hits his limits, and drowns in his pool of uselessness. He convinces himself that he is not good enough, feeling people are judging his every move, and feeling criticized. As a result to all of this, the anxiety hits him hard. This finalizes his state of paralysis, and finally drowns from being overwhelmed. Eliot plays with minor themes like beauty, age, and women, to show Prufrock’s state of paralysis.
Although Eliot’s poem about a depressed fictional character, it teaches the audience a lesson. By using themes and metaphors in his poem, Eliot makes a point of telling the audience that there is a Prufrock in everyone. It is not an easy task to live up to everyone’s expectations, let alone your own expectations. This is exactly the struggle we see Eliot’s character go through throughout the poem. He struggles to impress himself, and impress others. Prufrock has the incapacity to act on very simple things. He is too scared to confront women in social gatherings, he is too self-conscious, and he lacks motivation.
Similar Prufrock no one is perfect. There will always be a point in time where one feels that they cannot do anything, whether its talking to women or convincing yourself that you are good enough. Everyone suffers a state of paralysis at some point in their lives, the hard part is how they over come it, but with Prufrock we see him “drown” in his paralysis. Works Cited Eliot, T. S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. ” Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. By X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. 603-07. Print.
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