Character Analysis in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

J. Alfred Prufrock: J. Alfred Prufrock is a lonely, middle-aged man who moves through a modern, urban environment in a state of confusion and isolation. Though he wrote the poem in his early twenties, Eliot remarked that “It was partly a dramatic creation of a man of about 40 I should say, and partly an expression of feeling of my own through this dim imaginary figure.” Prufrock’ character is distinct. Yet his personality is vague enough to embody universal concerns. Prufrock’s preoccupations with his balding head and his banter over afternoon tea provide the outlines of an identity. However, his experiences of overwhelming confusion and spiritual disconnection are familiar to many modern people. Attempting to find a place for himself in the cosmos, Prufrock asks, “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?”

Character Analysis Examples in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 7

"I am Lazarus..."   (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

Lazarus of Bethany, aka Saint Lazarus, was purportedly raised from the dead by Jesus, who was a great friend of his. In the context of the poem, this allusion suggests that Prufrock either thinks or once thought of himself as a dead man, but that his love interest changes that. This unfortunately doesn't help with his social anxiety.

"I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each..."   (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

This is one of the most famous lines from the poem. It picks up on the previous water imagery ("silent seas," "pools") and adds a fantastical element. The mermaids of the poem are foils for the woman at tea, whom Prufrock disdains because he thinks he knows them already. He prefers women with a sense of mystery, he implies, but he doesn't think he can actually attract one.

"Senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo...."   (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

This epigraph is taken from Dante's Inferno (XXVII, 61–66)) and may be translated as:

"If I but thought that my response were made to one perhaps returning to the world, this tongue of flame would cease to flicker. But since, up from these depths, no one has yet returned alive, if what I hear is true, I answer without fear of being shamed."

Since the traveler through Hell believes that no one will ever report his story, he feels free to tell it without shame. Similarly, Prufrock doesn't believe that anyone will care about his story, so he feels equally free to admit his embarrassments, awkwardness, and alienation.

"Do I dare to eat a peach..."   (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

One of the most famous lines from the poem, "Do I dare to eat a peach?" is an example of Prufrock's inability to allow himself to feel pleasure or engage in a pleasant social activity. In the course of the poem, he makes himself sound as unattractive as possible, indicating that he has low self-esteem, in spite of his literary ability.

"Prince Hamlet..."   (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

Prince Hamlet is the titular character of Shakespeare's famous play. In spite of his melancholy and his tendency toward dramatic monologue, Prufrock does not believe himself to be worthy of a starring role in life, instead relegating himself to a supporting, subservient role as an attendant lord.

"Disturb the universe..."   (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

Though Prufrock's assumes that other people will belittle him and speak with disdain of his bald spot and his clothes, these lines suggest that he actually has a grandiose opinion of himself, likely stemming from his intelligence and his belief in his intellectual superiority.

"To prepare a face..."   (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

One of the poem's central themes is social anxiety and how it affects Prufrock's ability to interact with those around him. This line, like the others in the tea scene, is indicative of the discomfort Prufrock feels in social situations and his belief that he needs to put on a "face" or mask in order to fit in or hide his true self from those around him. This also fits into the theme of otherness presented throughout the poem.