The conflict of modern man in the poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Question: Discuss how The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock represents the conflict of modern man. Or, how does Eliot express the conflict of modern man in the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”? 


Conflict of the heart is one of the major problems or labyrinths of 20th-century people. The poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” highly focuses on this prime crux through sketching the symbolic character ‘Prufrock’ who always suffers from the dilemma of heart and head. Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) has been able to probe into the deep of modern man’s psychology by dint of a series of streams of consciousness.

The conflict of modern man in the poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Inability to act

The poem starts with an energetic tone and indication in which Prufrock proposes his love lady to go out. In a fantastic evening time, he would like to set out with his beloved.

“Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;”

But the comparison of the evening with an unconscious patient lying on the operation table reflects the inability of modern man to act on the plan. Prufrock is paralyzed of his will like the patient etherized upon the table. So, at the very outset of the poem, the poet has attacked the inability of neoteric man.

Click here: All Notes for poetry

Hyperbolic thought

Eliot limns that Prufrock is not devoted to his thought, but he is deeply addicted to his thought. He plans to propose his lady sundry times but the action has never taken indeed to implement his thought or plan. His thought and intention are disposed at the mouth of the poem too.

“To lead you to an overwhelming question

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

It is felt and understood that something charming in love might happen, but the immediate question mark creates a tension of thought because Prufrock loses his courage to declare his intention. Such tension of thought and planning runs throughout the poem, but the result is empty since Prufrock always thinks that whatever he says to the lady will be answered by-

“That is not what I meant at all.

That is not it, at all.”

Waiting for opportunity

Prufrock is a person who does not have the courage and smartness to create opportunity. He is a man waiting for an opportunity for love.

”And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

He could not implement his plan even though the opportunity comes to his life because of his Hamlet-like temperament and personality. Hamlet has put his own illness or ailment in such remarks as:

“Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all,”

Thus, the man who is unable to create and avail himself of the opportunity becomes tragic or futile in the long run.

Romanticism vs realism

Prufrock is a man of a split personality. He has no power to reach his decision whether he should propose to his sweetheart or not because of his conflict between head and heart. He has two selves – romantic and realist. His romantic self-persuades him to go to his beloved and propose to her. But his realist self vividly suggests that he lacks the necessary courage to declare his love. He himself compares this with a gigantic effort.

” To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball,”

Undue frustration for the past and concern for future

Eliot has shown frustration and concern for the present and future reality by the symbolic character Prufrock. Modern life is spent by the frustration of the past because of aimless activities. Prufrock recounts his life very simply but deeply.

“I have measured my life with coffee spoons.”

Escape from reality

Being bored with his own indecisiveness, he longs to escape into some world of romance. He has often walked on the beach dressed in white woolen or flannel trousers. He imagines that he has seen unmarried ladies or mermaids singing to each other. But such romantic visions of beauty have been short-lived as reality has always attacked his romantic dreams. As a result, he has returned to a sense of actuality.

“Till human voices wake us, and we drown.”

The words “we drown” indicate the never-ending frustrations of conflicted modern people.


Now therefore it is vivid and transparent that there is no progress in the poem for the poem ends where it began. Such start and end are the reflections of the sordidness and dilemma of modern urban civilization. Thus, Prufrock is the perfect example of the impotence and despair of conflicted neoteric individuals.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
Articles: 380

Leave a Reply

error: Sorry !!