The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
How we cite our quotes:
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair –
[They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin –
[They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!" (lines 40-44)
Prufrock is one of those people who is really hard to give a compliment to. "I see you got your collar all the way up to the chin – good for you." "Way to be modest with your necktie – it really just shouts ‘mediocrity.’" "Your thin arms and legs make the rest of you look so buff!" In short, Prufrock wears the same clothes as everybody else, hoping to blend in and draw attention away from the rest of him. He is a superficial guy who is most concerned with what everyone else (the mysterious "they") will think.
And I have known the eyes already, known them all –
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, (lines 55-58)
When Prufrock looks at other people, he doesn’t see complete bodies; he only sees a collection of body parts. Here he sees "the eyes," which treat him like a scientists treats an insect specimen. He misses all the depths and subtleties of human emotion because he has a single-minded focus on the things that make him squirm.
And I have known the arms already, known them all –
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
It is perfume from a dress 65
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl. (lines 62-67)
More body parts. Bring on the arms! We assume these are female arms because they have bracelets, and because Prufrock mostly spends his time thinking about women. But one arm actually catches his eye, and for a brief moment, it seems like it could belong to a real person. The arm is covered with a soft, "light brown hair" that is revealed in the moonlight. If only he could give that much attention to a full person, he might have a richer inner life. But he soon returns to his bored and tired tone.