T.S. Elliot’s, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is not a typical love song. Most love songs show affection through idyllic images and smooth rhythm; however, Prufrock’s song seems to have the opposite. In this poem Prufrock is addressing a woman hoping to mend or begin a relationship; however, his negative outlook on himself and the society around him make this impossible. Because one of the poem’s central themes is Prufrock’s damaged self-image, this love song carries a lugubrious, dreary tone. Prufrock shows his lack of confidence in his appearance and insecurity about his social skills through repetition, point of view, symbolism, and allusion.
The repitition in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” intensifies the speaker’s insecurity. In lines 38 and 45, the speaker second-guesses himself by asking, “do I dare” before making any decisions. This constant questioning and self-doubt lead the reader to assume that Prufrock does not trust himself. Another way Elliot highlights Prufrock’s insecurity is through the repeated phrase in lines 90 and 100: “Would it have been worthwhile.” The speaker is reflecting on past run-ins with women “after the cups, the marmalade, the tea” (88) and “after the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets” (101). These idyllic images are contrasted by the insecurity that follows the speaker’s internal questioning; this makes the speaker’s shortcomings obvious. These examples of anxiety and procrastination are highlighted by repetition and show the speaker’s lack of confidence.
The theme of a damaged self-image is magnified by the speaker’s thoughts. Because this poem is in first person point of view, these demeaning speculations show the speaker’s lack of self-confidence; this is the speaker’s view of himself through his own eyes. One flaw that Prufrock is insecure about is his physical aging: “Time to turn back and descend the stair, / With a bald spot in the middle of my hair-- / (They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)” (39-41). He is scared to walk down the stairs because he knows that others will notice his balding hair. The inside view to Prufrock's thoughts that comes with the first person point of view strengthens the mournful tone and makes the reader pity the speaker. This same tone carries through lines 42 through 44 when he is describing his outfit: “My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, / My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin-- / (They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!).” The first person point of view makes it seem as if the speaker is looking over his outfit in a mirror and demeaning himself. This style of narration successfully relays the theme of Prufrock’s broken ego.
Elliot successfully uses symbolism to show Prufrock’s shattered self-image. In lines 73 and 74, the speaker degrades himself by saying that he “… should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” By implying that the crab is a symbol of himself is significant for many reasons. A crab has a hard exterior. Judging by Prufrock’s extreme insecurity, the speaker is obviously very shy. Another reason the crab symbolism is significant is because they live in the ocean. The ocean is a symbol of solitude and isolation. By relating himself to a crab, the