Question: 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 means incongruity between expectation and achievement. In the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, Eliot (1888-1965) has made extended use of irony to expose weariness, regret, longing, irritation, emasculation, sexual frustration, a sense of decay, and awareness of morality generated by the contemporary urban civilization.
According to modern critics, in the term irony, there remains the root sense of hiding what is actually the case. It is not used in order to deceive at all but achieve special rhetorical and special effects.
Whenever the title of the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is read, the sensation is produced. Because it makes the readers expect that the theme of the poem will be the love story of the protagonist, Prufrock. But it is quite opposite to the expectance since there is no single expression of love without weariness, regret, longing, irritation, emasculation, sexual frustration, a sense of decay, and awareness of morality generated by the contemporary urban civilization. Such irony runs throughout the poem and there is no progress in the love journey.
The irony is in the name of the protagonist
There is irony even in the name, Prufrock because it suggests banality and fatuity. The epitomized ridiculous name Prufrock is not entirely whimsical because it is said that the name has been derived from the name of a furniture dealer in St. Louis. He would like to speak of love, but he does not dare. A businessman cannot be timid to achieve his destination. A critical explanation would reveal that it records the backdown or recoil of Prufrock from rather than his involvement in love.
The outset of the poem is really grandiose since the poem starts with a proposal to set out. Prufrock wants to go with lady love on an autumnal evening when the whole environment is silent because of the absence of passersby.
“Let us go then you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky”
Such a beginning creates a thrilling, but the prosaic end of the poem makes it clear that irony pervades throughout the poem.
Exaggeration over triviality
Love is the soul of human life. Love proposal is not a big task rather than the normality of life. The pompous language used by Prufrock for making love is shocking and ironic. He compares the simple and banal way of proposition or blueprint to a sort of earthquake.
“To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball”
Further, Prufrock asserts that a love proposal is not a simple task. It is as difficult as “to murder and create”. Such expression is the token of his cowardice indecisiveness.
Presumption before action
The crux of modern people is the prediction of failure without taking any action. Prufrock tries a hundred times to act upon his plan but he is suppressed by the thought of rejection. He is hesitant between his romantic self and his realist self.
His romantic self-persuades him to go to his beloved but the realist self-refrains him from the emotion. He is a middle-aged man having baldness in the center of his head which forces him to think about the result. But it is only a false or lame excuse for his inability to act like Hamlet. He always thinks that his lady may accept his proposal in a different way.
“That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”
So, Eliot means to say that without action how success can be gained. Step first then expect something.
Thus, irony predominates the expressions of the paralyzed Prufrock. Now it seems that Prufrock is a representative figure of neoteric men.