Paralysis as Theme in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Paralysis as Theme in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" is one of the most influential poems of the twentieth century (Williams 49). It is certainly not a love song like any that had been written before. The second and third lines shock the reader because of their unusual imagery that would be out of place in a traditional love poem, describing the setting sunlit sky as looking "like a patient etherised upon a table" (Eliot 3). This "etherised" outside world is the key to understanding all of Prufrock's views. He is afraid of the increasingly industrialized and impersonal city surrounding him, and he is unsure of what to do and afraid to commit to any particular choice of action (Mays 112). Paralysis is the main theme of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

Eliot composed "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" during a period beginning in 1909, and ending with the culmination of his first published book, Prufrock and Other Observations, which was published in 1917 (Scofield 46). The changes he made over several years may account for the fragmentation of the poem, but the main theme of paralysis was ever present, and would continue to be a major theme of Eliot's for much of his career (Scofield 46). Originally, the poem was titled "Prufrock Among The Women", which was later adapted and used in "Sweeny Among The Nightingales". Eliot chose to use the more ironic title, of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" instead, echoing the form of his name that Eliot himself was using at the time, that of T. Stearns Eliot (Southam 1).

In 1909, Eliot completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard, and wrote what would be relatively unchanged in its final edition, the beginning of "Prufrock", lines 1-14. The following year, Eliot traveled abroad to attend lectures at the Sorbonne, hearing Bergson at the Collège de France, and taking private lessons with Alain-Fournier. When he returned home a year later to read for his doctorate,...