“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” A Quick Feminist Critique

t_s-eliot11Prufrock’s laments his aging; “With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— / (They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!” (131). “I grow old . . . I grow old . . . / I shall wear the bottoms of my trowsers rolled.” And in white flannel trowsers (rolled, we may presume), he plans to “walk upon the beach.” He could lament being aged not by years, but by a life unrealized and crumbling; “drown[ing]” (135) and ending in fear (133). Perhaps Prufrock’s dysfunctional love letter is meant for his muses; those who fancy him a “Prince Hamlet” when all the while he is simply “an attendant lord” (134). Perhaps the crux of his fear is these women knowing him— being exposed—the heroic prince-artist-poet is no more than an attendant; unworthy of being admired by these women-objects living outside of his universe who “come and go / Talking of Michelangelo” (130).

Feminist criticism  may focus its lens upon the western patriarchal ideology apparent within Prufrock’s world, for the core of his depression are women — these women who preside in (or out of) his life; these “women [who] come and go” (130), serve as his antagonists. Poor Prufrock reduces them to parts of a whole; he has “known the eyes already . . . the arms already;” they aren’t human, but “mermaids, singing each to each” — not to him. “Seagirls” in “chambers” in which he “lingers” (135). His misogyny is lighted as he has “seen . . . [his] head (slightly bald) brought / in upon a platter,” alluding to Queen Herodias, who coerced her daughter, Salome to demand of the King: “I will that forthwith thou give me in a dish, the head of John . . . and the damsel gave it to her mother” (St. John p. 18). Paradoxically, he views himself as a mimesis of the King, beset upon by daughters and mothers who he misunderstands: ” . . . one, settling a pillow by her head, / should say: “That is not what I meant at all; / That is not I, at all” (134). These women, he says, will “fix [him] . . . in a formulated phrase / . . . sprawling on a pin, / . . . wriggling on the wall” (132). The patriarchal ideology of Prufrock “creates the failure that it then uses to justify its assumptions about women” (Tyson 83).

Works Cited

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Journal Storage, 2016.
http://www.jstor.org/stable/20570428?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today. 3rd Ed., Routledge, 2015.

“St. John the Baptist” Catholic Encyclopedia, 2012,
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08486b.htm.

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