The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: Struggles of a Man Coping with Anxiety

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Have you ever read a novel and found yourself answering unanswered questions? Critic Roland Barthes has said, “Literature is the question minus the answer.” This means that literature can spark thought and questions, and there is no correct answer. TS Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” demonstrates a man’s struggle with his anxiety and inability to effectively communicate with other human beings. The speaker, J. Alfred Prufrock, is unable to share his experiences and emotions with other people. This leaves us with a question: How do Prufrock’s downfalls create uncertainty throughout the text?

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This can be answered by reading deeper into the text.
Prufrock asks himself a lot of questions, despite not knowing the answer. Prufrock’s insecurities reveal his preconceptions about other’s opinions of himself. Throughout the poem, Prufrock jumps between the different aspects of himself that he dislikes, from routine life to his bald spot and thin legs. These insecurities make him feel as if he is unworthy of being in the company of other people. He spends several lines of the poem debating whether or not to attend a party, eventually believing that doing so would “disturb the universe”. Figuratively, Prufrock sees his attendance as disruptive to the natural order of the world. He automatically assumes he is not only unwanted, but not supposed to be at the party in the first place. Prufrock also lingers about belonging, or more accurately, not being able to find a place where he belongs.

The poem follows Prufrock’s mental state, from his current feelings toward certain events to his predictions of the future. This somewhat stream-of-consciousness style fits the topic well. Anxiety cannot be “cured” or even retained very easily, and it cannot be explained in simple terms. By following his actions and thoughts, Eliot can more accurately demonstrate social anxiety rather than just saying it. With a more accurate medium for conveying ideas, Prufrock’s existentialism can then be analyzed in a different, more relatable light.

Prufrock’s anxiety, as a manifestation of his existential fears, holds him back and causes him to develop a complicated, introverted personality that is almost afraid to be seen by others. He cannot decide whether to attend the party or not and imagines that if he rallies against his anxieties and does go, his “head [will be] brought in upon a platter”. His insecurities—the balding spot in his hair, his thin arms and legs—would then be on display for others to see, and for him to be forced to confront. He overall feels that he is seen as useless in the eyes of the party-goers. He imagines being started at and judged upon entering the party. This raises questions, that have no definitive answer. In this way, Eliot causes the reader to really dive in and think.

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