An Analysis of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Essay
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The editors of anthologies containing T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" invariably footnote the reference to Lazarus as John 11:1-44; rarely is the reference footnoted as Luke 16:19-31. Also, the reference to John the Baptist is invariably footnoted as Matthew 14:3-11; never have I seen the reference footnoted as an allusion to Oscar Wilde's Salome. The sources that one cites can profoundly affect interpretations of the poem. I believe that a correct reading of Eliot's "Prufrock" requires that one cite Wilde, in addition to Matthew, and Luke, in addition to John, as the sources for the John the Baptist and Lazarus being referenced. Furthermore, the citation of these sources can help explain Eliot's allusion to…show more content…
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in
upon a platter,
I am no prophet--and here's no great matter... (81-83)
The reference is not only to Matthew 14:3-11, but also to Oscar Wilde's Salome, the play upon which Richard Strauss based his opera Salome. In the biblical account, no motivation is ascribed to Salome for wanting John the Baptist killed. In the versions by Wilde and Strauss, however, Salome is passionately in love with the imprisoned John the Baptist, who, because he will not let the temptations of the flesh corrupt his pure love of God, rejects her advances. Wilde's Salome, determined that if she cannot have John no one will have John, asks Herod for the Baptist's head on a platter. John the Baptist spurned Salome's affections while he lived; now that he is dead, Salome lavishes her kisses upon the cold lips of the bloody corpse-head.
Prufrock, too, has had his moments of temptation: he has "known the arms already, known them all-- / Arms that are braceleted and white and bare / (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)" (62-64). And these very sources of temptation, these "arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl" (67), eventually emasculate Prufrock by rejection:
As the poem progresses, it becomes apparent that Prufrock is an affluent man who is not only tired of social pressures but with his own incompetence in withstanding these external forces. As mentioned earlier, he seems to be longing for the attention of a single person, presumably, a woman, asking "Is it perfume from a dress - That makes me so digress?" (Eliot 738). This unknown lady's attention distracts Prufrock throughout The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In the first few lines, he seems to ask for "an evening spread out against the sky - Like a patient etherized upon a table"; with his interest. This line gives a sense of Prufrock's numbness with the societal standards heaved upon him and may be a hint towards a want of a physical relationship, even if he feels it may not yield fruitful.
He continues, talking frequently about her arms, braceleted and bare, even noting he has noticed the light brown hair in the lamplight (Eliot 735). It seems that Prufrock is infatuated with every aspect of her and wishes that she would make the first move to begin a more committed, romantic relationship. He makes a note of her outside of the writhing masses that judge him, hoping she would notice he has misspoken and forgive him regardless, as seen in lines 97 - 110. His clumsy social standings render him unable to advance in his passion, and Prufrock compares himself to a bug mounted on a pin for observation, obviously uncomfortable with what he feels is the constant examination of his peers.
It is never explicitly stated, but one can infer that he plans on asking this woman for her hand in marriage, but loses faith at the last minute. The frequent pressing of "And should I then presume" reflects his own self-doubt. He dreams about this mysterious woman in the way a teenager might, going over in his own mind how and when he should ask her. Even in the opening lines, he is thinking of asking her this pressing question, losing faith with "Oh, do not ask, 'What is it?' - Let us go and make our visit."