The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
by T.S. Eliot
Prufrock is very concerned about his reputation, and he doesn’t want to stick out in a crowd. He’d rather people not notice him at all, which is why he seems uncomfortable with doctors and scientists, whose jobs involve examining and taking things about. But he’s also like a scientist himself in the way that he "cuts people up" (yikes) in his mind, reducing people, and especially women, to a collection of body parts. He loves to use the "synecdoche," which takes one part of an object and uses it to represent the whole. He talks about "faces," "eyes," and "arms," but never full human beings.
- Lines 2-3: Although it doesn’t directly deal with body parts, the simile comparing the evening to a patient who has been put under anesthesia ("etherised") on a surgery table prepares us for all the metaphorical "surgery" and "dissecting" that Prufrock does when he sees people only as body parts.
- Lines 27-29: The "faces" are a synecdoche; you don’t go out just to meet a face, you go out to meet the entire person.
- Lines 40-44: Prufrock’s "bald spot" is a repeated symbol of his middle age, just as his nice clothes are a symbol of his relatively high social class. Unfortunately, the clothes are only good feature (that we know of). Indeed, he also has thin arms and legs. Which is surprising, because the guy eats all the time.
- Lines 55-58: Again, the eyes are a synecdoche – they are a part of a person used to stand for the whole person. After all, eyes can’t "formulate," only a thinking person can do that. He uses the metaphor of a scientist examining an insect specimen to describe the way he feels under the gaze of those critical "eyes."
- Lines 62-67: Sigh, here we go again. The arms are a part that stands for a whole – in this case, a whole woman. Synecdoche!
- Line 82: Prufrock gets decapitated! The poem just turned into a Quentin Tarantino movie. Actually, we’re not sure what he means here, except that he is making a metaphorical allusion to John the Baptist from the Bible, whose decapitation is regarded as an example of Christian sacrifice. Prufrock is comparing his own sacrifice to John’s.