Poem ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’

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In ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, written by T. S. Elliot in 1917, J. Alfred Prufrock makes the reader privy to his innermost thoughts on an evening out. This is one of the most important poems of all time because almost everyone can identify with the insecurity of J. Alfred Prufrock at one time or other, which makes it very realistic. Prufrock wants to lead the reader to a question, setting up the tension as the poem goes on only to never ask this certain question. The reader goes along this journey with Prufrock as you find out about the life he lives and how he lives it. As the story goes on the reader can tell that Prufrock is a man filled with anxiety. This anxiety that he deals with causes him to act the way he acts. Through this anxiety that he faces Prufrock is living in a hell that his own mind has created which is demonstrated through Freud’s idea of the id, the ego, and the superego.

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Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality argues that human behavior is the result of the interactions among three component parts of the mind: the id, ego, and superego. The id is the part of our minds that have to deal with our impulsive and unconscious parts of our psyches. This can be seen as our pleasures, our deepest desires and wants. In this poem, Prufrock is controlled by his lust for women as he experiences the countless “ restless nights in one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster shells (Elliot 6-7). This line is showing the reader that he goes on cheap dates with women that he, later on, most likely ends up sleeping with in “ one-night cheap hotels”. These one night stands are the only thing that Prufrock understands anymore. He is bewildered by the mere thought of advancing in a relationship with women to the point where his anxiety causes him to keep everything to himself. Prufrock can be seen as a man who gives in to his sexual desires fairly easily. When Elliot writes “ Is it perfume from a dress that makes me so digress”(65-66) this shows us that Prufrock needs only the simple smell of perfume for him to digress. This digression that occurs can be drawn back to his id and how his impulses lead him to his desires. These impulses, however, are guiding him to one-night cheap hotels where nothing really matters. Mcleod stated that Freud found out that “some events and desires were often too frightening or painful for his patients to acknowledge, and believed such information was locked away in the unconscious mind. This can happen through the process of repression” (McLeod). This repression that Freud speaks of can be seen as the anxiety that Prufrock deals with as he goes along his journey. This anxiety is holding him back from what he could have.

Freud’s psychoanalysis theories are also supported by his ideals of the superego and the ego. The superego is the conscience of the mind. It is largely determined in childhood from parental values and how one was raised as a child. This is the part of your conscience that produces guilt and anxiety. Carveth states that “ Freud views the superego of the individual as a conscience capable of resisting both the sadism of the id and of authority, but one that is prone to being usurped by a superego offered by a group or its leader(Carveth). He is stating that conscience is able to act on it own however sometimes the id overcomes the conscience and the superego is left to deal with the aftermath. Prufrock sleeps with these women time and time again, accumulating to nothing. He is only fulfilling his sexual desires, however, men need more than just sex men need to be able to feel for someone. As the “ women come and go talking of Michelangelo”(Elliot 13-14) Prufrock understands that these women are coming and going and looking for someone better. He is comparing himself to Michelangelo, who is closely associated with perfection. This comparison that he makes him perceive that he is an ugly man and that he is not good enough. This can also be seen where Elliot says “ Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair…”. This conscience that he has of himself makes him second guess what he really is. The second-guessing of his actions and judgments will lead to the anxiety that rules his life. This anxiety causes him to make judgments that most likely are not the most ideal for his future. He amounts himself to be no better than “ a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas ”(Elliot 73-74). This anxiety leads to Prufrock not being able to advance in life as he is always thinking about how other people are judging him.

The ego can be seen as the parts of our mind that work through reason. It acts as the mediator between the unrealistic id and reality. The ego finds realistic ways to satisfy what our id wants in life. Elliot states that Prufrock “.. has known them all already, known them all”(49). The reader can infer that Elliot here is talking about women. He is talking about how Prufrock has been with many women, however, even though he has been with many women his anxiety has caused him to believe that he is lesser of a man than others. He knows that he should not care about what these women think of him, but subconsciously this affects him because he knows that he is no Michelangelo. The ego is what dictates how we should achieve our deepest desires.

Anxiety is what causes people to be who they are. It is fear or worry that does not go away and can get worse over time. It can influence your life to the extent that it can interfere with daily activities like school, work and/or relationships. Fear, stress, and anxiety are ‘normal feelings and experiences’ but they should not be what dictates your life.

As it can be seen in “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” Prufrock’s life is clouded by the anxiety that he contains in himself. Elisabeth Schneider clarifies that “ ‘The Love Song’ is more than a retreat from love, however; it is the portrait of a man in Hell, though until his truth is clearly realized, the hell appears to be merely the trivial one of the self-conscious individual in a sterile society”(Guven). Prufrock’s meaningless society and life of anxiety lead him to the end of it all. This poem shows us that we as humans should not live in a world where anxiety rules our subconscious, therefore we should attack our fears and live life to the fullest. 

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Poem 'The Lovesong Of J. Alfred Prufrock'. (2021, Jun 29). Retrieved September 29, 2022 , from
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