The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
by T.S. Eliot
There are at least three sides to our speaker, Prufrock. On one side we have the sneaky trickster, who invites us on a romantic walk only to lead us down windy roads and point out that the evening looks like a patient about to undergo surgery. He keeps stalling and leading us away from the main subject (his "overwhelming question"), as if he had something to hide. And he constantly confuses the time of day and even the past versus the future, like a casino manager who removes all the clocks from the building so customers won’t realize they have someplace else to be.
On the other side we have Prufrock the Fool, whose desperate attempts to make us think he’s a cool, confident ladies’ man is comically transparent. Really, who is this guy think he’s kidding?
Finally, we have the sad, honest man who realizes the jig is up and can’t even convince himself of his own stories. This Prufrock, who only lets his mask drop for a few lines at a time, is the one who admits that he should have been "a pair of ragged claws" and that he has seen "the moment of [his] greatness flicker" (lines 72, 84). Like a juggler, the poem keeps a delicate balance between these three personalities, so that one never gets an upper hand other the others.
Our speaker is an average middle-class man. In fact, we think that if you put a bunch of Prufrocks together in a room, you would have "The Man," that mysterious killjoy who secretly controls the world. He doesn’t want to rock the boat, and he is most concerned with keeping the status quo, which means nice clothes, fine tea, and utter boredom all the time. He wields power in society but has no power of his domestic life. He kind of suspects that he’s a "ridiculous" and a "Fool" but could never fully admit it to himself (lines 118-119). This is a poem where we get to put "The Man" under the microscope and watch him squirm.
There’s one part of the poem, however, that isn’t in the voice of Prufrock. This is the Epigraph. We think the Epigraph is Eliot’s little joke on Prufrock, and a warning to those who have read Dante (or who care to look up the reference) that we shouldn’t trust everything we hear.