Irony in the title The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is a notable literary work by T. S. Eliot. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.


What irony do you find in the title of the poem, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, and how does it run throughout the poem?

Irony is a literary device or situation that contrasts expectations and reality, often resulting in humour or a deeper meaning. The title “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915) by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) is indeed full of irony. At first glance, one might expect it to be a romantic love poem, but it portrays the inner conflict of modern people through its leading character, Alfred Prufrock.

Irony in the Title: The title implies that it is a “love song,” usually expressing passionate or heartfelt love. However, Prufrock’s monologue is far from a traditional love song. Instead of expressing his feelings openly and directly, Prufrock is hesitant, indecisive, and full of self-doubt. He does not talk to the person he loves but contemplates endlessly about the possible outcomes. He is too anxious about the potential consequences to take action. This is evident in the following line:

“I don’t think that they will sing to me.”

Representation of an Ironic Protagonist: The protagonist himself bears the most ironic implications. He should have been bold and forceful as an ordinary lover, but he is cowardly and hesitant. His constant questioning, “Do I dare?” and “Do I dare?” demonstrates his indecision and hesitation, which is unusual in a love song. These lines show his lack of self-assurance and fear of rejection, contrasting with the confidence we expect from a love song.

Irony in the Declaration of Love: Love songs typically involve direct contact between lovers. On the other hand, Prufrock broadly speaks to himself in the poem. The poem is a dramatic monologue, which means that instead of a conversation or a direct declaration of his feelings to his loved one, Prufrock becomes absorbed by his thoughts, worries, and anxieties.

The Ironic Urban Life: The nature of urban life should be characterized by distinctive qualities, challenges, and opportunities. But in the modern period, urban life has become futile and barren. Women are primarily showy, and all run after sexual pleasure. They are concerned with trivial and mundane issues. Prufrock says,

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

It demonstrates that he sees his life as ordinary and uninteresting, starkly contrasting the passionate, colourful existence commonly depicted in love songs. Thus, the poet illustrates the pointlessness and emptiness of urban life through sarcastic implications.

Exaggeration over Triviality: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” contains satirical pictures and glorifies the insignificant. In this poem, Eliot elevates his minor and intimate concerns to universal concerns. For example, the proposal’s modest adornment is compared to an earthquake that destroys the universe. Decorating his love is similar to pressing the universe into a ball. The matter of a proposal is as difficult as “To murder and create.”

Ironic Physical Appearance: Despite his old age, the protagonist dresses in the most fashionable clothes to conceal his age and cover up his baldness. The irony in how he wishes to appear physically is implied. There is a tragedy in his lowering to the level of Polonius (a character in Hamlet) when he appears to have points in common with Prince Hamlet. He says,

“No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was I meant to be.”

Furthermore, he fantasizes about being a “pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas,” showing his wish to escape his fears and obligations. This longing for isolation starkly contrasts with the shared intimacy and connection depicted in traditional love songs.

Lastly, the irony starts with the title and goes through the poem. Prufrock’s monologue is a long, painful discussion riddled with uncertainty, insecurity, and indecision, starkly contrasting our expectations of a bold, straightforward love song. The idea of calling this a “love song” makes the title and the poem so ironic.