Sum of Parts in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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About this sample


Words: 1271 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Jul 27, 2018

Words: 1271|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Jul 27, 2018

These twelve lines capture the essence of all that is phenomenal about the poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and the author T.S.Eliot. In these lines we see the carefully chosen allusions, repetition, lyricism, and maintenance of ambiguity that distinguishes Eliot from other modernist poets. In addition, the way in which these lines are written leads to a greater understanding of the speaker. This brings the reader closer to his objective: understanding and heeding the warning of Prufrock by not following his example.

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Like most Eliot poems The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock is a collection of smaller, solitary images. When viewed on a larger scale it is Eliot's craft that makes these smaller parts into a dynamic and cohesive whole. When analyzing The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock it is necessary to analyze the individual parts to gain a greater appreciation for the whole. In doing so we may also better understand why we create any particular larger image or feeling out of the collected parts. We look at these images much the way we look at the paint in a great pointillist artwork.

The opening line in the selection, "And would it have been worth it, after all," captures the nature of the entire poem. The speaker, Prufrock, is questioning his own action, or inaction as the case may be. However if we look closely we can see that not only is Prufrock regretting a decision he has made or is unwilling to make; he is debating whether or not to regret. The repetition of this sentiment three lines later is quite telling. It illustrates the extent to which Prufrock truly doubts himself. It is this self doubt that plaques Prufrock throughout this poem and his life.

The first real image in this selection of the poem is the one of, "the cups, the marmalade, the tea," These images, very sweet, ornate and fanciful bring about a feeling of pomp. We then get a sensation for the world in which Prufrock is living, a society where falsity reigns. Although this is not directly expressed by Eliot, his use of the objective correlative conjures up emotions similar to the ones that Fitzgerald is able to convey in his condemnation of the frivolous upper class in his novel The Great Gatsby. In this first image of frivolity we find the selection's first allusion. In a typically "Eliotian" fashion, it is an obscure allusion. The allusion is made to a collection of Rubaiyat (quatrains) written by Omar Khayyam (1048 - 1122) and translated from Farsi into English by Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883).

Though slight and obscure the allusion is incredibly fitting. For in the line that follows the "borrowed" line, we see that the speaker questions his own being. We can see direct parallels between this speaker's uncertainty of being and Prufrock.

A second and equally important allusion comes in the line "To have squeezed the universe into a ball." The line is a said to allude to the poem To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell, specifically Marvell's line,"Let us roll all our strength and all " This line has strong sexual connotation and is meant to illustrate the nature of Prufrock's desires and regrets. However slightly more subtle is the irony found in the title and content of Marvell's poem. The poem itself is narrated by a man who is attempting to convince his mistress to engage in sexual relations immediately, for he says, "But at my back I always hear " This attitude is in direct contrast to Prufrock. While Prufrock reminds us "There will be time", the speaker of the Marvell poem fears there will not be time. The conflicting images raised by the allusion further add to the characterization of Prufrock.

The next line , "To roll it toward some overwhelming question" is one of the most ambiguous lines in our passage. The unnamed, "overwhelming question" that Prufrock is too afraid to pose is a source of mystery to the reader. Here we find a hole left by Eliot that we the reader are expected to fill.

In contrast to the previous line the next allusion to the Biblical Lazarus is quite elementary. Most readers are familiar with the story of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ. In actuality the reader's familiarity with the story is a moot point because Eliot mentions Lazarus' rise from the dead. The obvious parallel is then drawn between the speaker Prufrock, and the character Lazarus. While Lazarus was biologically dead we can see that Prufrock is emotionally and psychologically dead. Yet as lucid as the allusion and parallel may be, it's implication is just as mysterious. Prufrock says that he has something to tell the world but he refrains from saying it. In addition to further characterizing Prufrock as timid, this suspended revelation creates more ambiguity within the poem.

The final part to our selection is a relative climax. Here we can finally see what Prufrock fears. Until this point we know that Prufrock has feared taking any significant control in his life, but we don't know from what he is hiding. Finally it becomes apparent through the use of the pronoun "her" that it is specifically rejection by women that Prufrock fears. Yet within this discovery is placed another riddle. This riddle is placed in the last line, " ?That is not it, at all' " We can see that this "it" is the one thing that Prufrock has dreaded his entire life. However we can only assume what this refers to, and are left guessing as to it's true identity.

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As noted before, in Eliot's poems it is the whole that becomes a construct of the individual, autonomous parts. The same is true for the parts within this selection of the poem. The selection is an excellent example of Eliot's use of the objective correlative. It is the individual images that draught out the specific innate emotions. By looking at this selection as a conglomeration of all of the images above we get a good characterization of the speaker, Prufrock. Yet at the same time the tremendous amount of ambiguity gives the reader the license and responsibility to construct their own psychological, rational feelings about the poem. The most crucial aspect of the selection is that the reader can see and feel the pathetic state of Prufrock. In doing so Eliot completes his objective, and the reader is richer for having this insight into the plight of an average, timid man..


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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Sum of Parts in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. (2018, May 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from
“Sum of Parts in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” GradesFixer, 31 May 2018,
Sum of Parts in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Jun. 2024].
Sum of Parts in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 May 31 [cited 2024 Jun 22]. Available from:
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