How significantly has Eliot portrayed the conflict of a modern man in the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”?
Or, What is Prufrock’s dilemma? Does he succeed in resolving it?
Answer: As a keen observer of modern western world, Eliot had comprehended what are the wants and lacks of a modern man. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is the song of a modern man divided between passion and timidity. It is a song of frustration and emotional conflict. The poem moves cyclically on with action, inaction and enforced relief from pain. The modern elements of frustration, late-marriage, indecisiveness, broken image, and dramatic beginning are the characteristics of this love poem. Pruforck, the hero suffers from severe mental conflict- in taking decisions in a critical juncture of his life.
There is hardly found any modern man who has never been suffered from frustration. More or less a man of present time gets frustrated at several spheres in his life. The epigraph of the poem heightens Prufrock’s frustration. It refers to the torture of Guido da Montefeltro in the eighth circle of the Inferno. He is tortured in hell for the sin of fraud through evil it council. And Prufrock is tortured, as he is guilty of fraud because he has perverted the human reason by directing it into pointless fantasy.
The dramatic beginning is one of the main characteristics of a modern poem.The poem starts with a proposal made by the protagonist. Observing the dramatic proposal of Prufrock, it seems that he is very serious to say his words to the unknown lady. He proposes.
Let us go then, You and I.
The modern world is full of complexity and anxiety. Nobody here is in peace. There always remains a gap between the want and getting of the people. They want more but get less. For different socio-economical causes, a modern man can’t marry at proper time. And for that, his outward appearance becomes unattractive. As Prufrock says:
“With a bald spot in the middle of my hair.
(They will say: How his hair is growing thin!)
(They will say: But how his arms and legs are thin!)
Prufrock, the hero, wants to propose one of his known women. He can’t decide whether he should tell or not. This indecisiveness is a marked characteristic of a modern man. Prufrock says:
Do I dare?
Disturb the universe?
Later he says;
Then how should I begin
To spite out all the but-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
A modern man’s complexity is really very tough to imagine. What he wants tosay can’t be expressed quietly. Eliot has depicted this broken image in his poem. In some lines, he did not mark the end; the line remained incomplete. The lines continue with such as,
To lead you to an overwhelming question………….
Or, I grow old………… I grow old…………..
It seems to us that Prufrock is a man of defeated idealism and tortured by unsatisfied desire. He is unimportant to others, but aware of his own despair. He does not dare to seek love because he is afraid of disappointment. Prufrock is a sensitive man caught in a stupid world. He is an aging romantic entrapped by a rotten world of pseudo gentility. As a result of his timidity, he has become incapable of action of any sort. Prufrock witnesses ‘sea-girls’ with romantic mood though he is consciously unheroic. These factors make him a comic figure, but his awareness makes him a tragic one. He reminds us that no problem is trivial to the man who faces it.
The action of the poem is limited. The inaction or reluctance to action gives the poem a rich tone of modernity. Literally, the ‘I’ and `You’ of the poem are not two person, rather, two aspects of the same person- the self (You) and the physical body (I). Prufrock’s physical body is thin, wispy, and weak. It is judged by others and condemned. And the self i.e, the ego is injured by the disgrace of the personality. The two, opposed to each other and united to each other, destroy Prufrock, and at the end of the poem we hear the most tragic words “We drown”.
Another modern quality of the poem is that thepoet borrows theme and lines from well-known or classic literary pieces. Forexample, he writes, “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.” Here by drawing the example of the great artist, Eliot hints at the trivialities of modern fashionable ladies. This triviality may have been brought from Alexander pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”. Similarly, the line ‘squeezed the universe into a ball’ ay have been taken from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”.
Prufrock lives in a world of fantasy and daydreams of which the Monologue itself is a symptom of modernity. In his imaginative world, he neither accepts nor rejects love. He, instead, has created a false notion of it, which has prevented him from any kind of action. Through the course of the poem, he has grown out of sentimentality riven by desire for something that he can’t achieve.
Prufrock is a modern man and the love song is a modern poem in consideration of its closeness to modernism. Indecisiveness, broken image, mental conflict, dramatic beginning e.t.c,are the characteristics of modern poetry. And all the above things we find significantly in the love song. From the above discussion, we may conclude that the love song represents the conflict of the modern man. It is a poem of a being divided between passion and timidity and it develops a theme of frustration and emotional conflict. The poem, actually, moves from ‘Should I begin’? ‘How begin? To “Shall I say?” But the action comes to the point of inaction. This is the conflict of a modern man and of modern society.