T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is inhabited by both a richly developed world and character and one is able to categorize the spaces in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to correspond to Prufrock’s mind. Eliot uses the architecture of the three locations described in the text to explore parts of Prufrock’s mind in the Freudian categories of id, ego, and super-ego; the city that is described becomes the Ego, the room where he encounters women his Id and the imagined ocean spaces his Super Ego.Eliot is vague in his suggestion of Prufrock’s audience, only referring to the listener once using “you and I;”(1) however, by analyzing Eliot’s intertextual inclusion of the passage from Dante’s Inferno and Prufock’s character one can speculate that the listener is Prufrock himself, and one step further, that it is an internal and mental debate. The passage from Dante’s Inferno acts as a chilling introduction to Prufrock’s mind:”If I thought I were answering someonewho could ever return to the world,this flame would be still;but since no one has returned alive from this depth,if what I hear is true, I respond without fear of ill repute.”(CITATION)
This quote suggests that Prufrock is telling his traveling companion the most intimate details of his existence; that what is said in the poem is said in all verity. However, there is no suggestion anywhere in the poem that Prufrock’s character would be comfortable engaging with anyone, let alone tell them of his greatest shortcomings and fear. It seems very unlikely that the ‘I’ referred to in the poem is another person, and equally as unlikely that Prufrock has said the words aloud at all. Concerned that his smallest actions and mu…
…], and [he] drown[s].”(131)By classifying “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as a symbolic exploration of the id, ego, and super ego of Prufrock, a deep and complex character is revealed. With constant tension the id seems to drive Prufrock forward towards engaging in conversation with a woman, while the ego attempts to satiate these desires and remain in a limbo without making decisions about anything important. The super-ego moderates this hostility and ensures that Prufrock remains in his indecision. T.S. Eliot’s pessimistic poem serves as encouragement to take advantage of opportunity and find the question.
Eliot, T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The Harbrace Anthology of Literature. 4th ed. Eds. Stott, Jon C., Raymond E. Jones, Rick Bowers, and William Connor. Toronto: Thomson Nelson, 2006. 225-230. Print.