An atmosphere of futility and barrenness in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Question: How does Eliot create an atmosphere of futility and barrenness in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”?


In the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) has probed deep into the subconscious and conscious mentality of neoteric people through the character of Prufrock. Prufrock is not an actual character but a successful model of modern men. His neurotic nature and moral cowardice create an atmosphere of futility and barrenness.

An atmosphere of futility and barrenness in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Paralyzed will of modern men

The term paralyzed mentality of modern men reflects that modern people have intentions, but they are out of function. In the interior monologue “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Eliot has created an atmosphere of futility and barrenness through the paralyzed mentality of the allegorical character Mr. Prufrock. Prufrock wants to do many things but he cannot perform because he is a man of presumption. One of his energetic mental background that deepens the atmosphere of futility and barrenness in the poem is:

“Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:”

The cowardice of neoteric people

T.S. Eliot has shown that Prufrock is a coward man. He just thinks about his actions but never practically applies. He would like to go outside with his girlfriend in the evening, but he fails to do so because of timidity and recurrence thinking of rejection. So, timidity can bring futility. That is why the poet suggests that people have to come out of his thinking addiction in case of positive and productive facts. Prufrock always has a positive and energetic notion of love but his cowardice mentality does not allow him to step forward.

Split personality

Split personality means fragmented thinking and lack of decision-making power. Prufrock has a romantic part in his heart and a very strong realistic segment too. His romantic segment of heart inspires him to be brave enough to propose to his beloved. But his realistic experiences hinder him to express his fiery emotions. He cannot reach a decision. It is the most unbearable dilemma in human life. Therefore, Eliot inspires modern men to be brave and to focus on procreative passion.

The futility of the upper class

T.S. Eliot is the real observer of human psychology like Robert Browning and a minute observer of society like Tennyson. In his masterpiece, “The Love Song J. Alfred Prufrock”, Eliot has depicted the upper-class society that is starkly futile and barren. There is no novelty and creativity among the people of the upper class. They are frustrated and spend their time aimlessly in the coffee houses by drinking, gossiping irrelevantly, gambling, and so on.

“I Have measured my life coffee spoons.”

Prufrock is a real observer of the futility of this class. He claims that he has gathered many ideas about the monotony and trivialities of social life. It is in his tongue:

“For I have known them all already, known them all.”

Thus, although he feels an attraction to the lady, he is aware of their worthlessness. He deadly feels the pulse of a modern man that is spiritual barrenness.

Reverie of modern men

Prufrock hesitates and fails to come to a decision. Being bored with his own indecision, he longs to escape into some world of romance. He has often walked on the beach dressed in white flannel trousers and he will do so again to escape from the boredom of the present. He has seen mermaids singing of each other, but such visions of beauty have been short-lived because reality has always intruded upon his romantic dreams and awakened him to a sense of actuality.

“We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”


 Now, it is vivid and transparent that the poet has succeeded in highlighting the dilemma of an enervated man as well as the sordidness and pettiness of modern urban civilization. And Prufrock symbolizes the frustration and impotence of each modern individual.

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SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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