Prufrock’s Social Anxiety

April 1, 2019 by Essay Writer

Prufrock’s Social Anxietyby, AnonymousApril 15, 2005Though the poem is specifically about Alfred Prufrock, it embodies the idea that every modern person struggles with these social barriers at some point in life. Eliot’s skillful use of repetition, rhyme, assonance, and imagery present a picture of a modern, single man who is tormented by his inability to communicate, his life-long search for the courage to approach others, his indecisiveness, and his ultimate failure. The modern man is over-educated, thoughtful, and awkward—much like today’s onslaught of college graduates. Unlike most people, though, Prufrock does not outgrow his awkwardness; hr struggles through it as he ages. This difference highlights that these challenges in social situations can plague a person of any age: “there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” (ln 27). Eliot recognizes Prufrock’s fear of people in this passage, as well as his passing age. The passive sound the repetition of “face” creates is descriptive of the cumbersome nature that is Prufrock’s social grace and creates a sense of passing time by indicating that Prufrock has seen many people pass through his life, but as expected, maintained a passive role in theirs. In this case, “face” also has a two meanings: it means both the identity of another person, and the challenge it is for Prufrock to meet them. The sing-song quality of the passage makes it light, though postponing the understanding of social dynamics for so late in life is heavy. Rhyme is also important in bringing to light the nature of Prufrock’s dilemma. The minority of lines in the first stanza that do not follow a rhyme pattern draw the reader’s attention; their lack of rhyme and assonance allows us to recognize them as important and examine them in particular. “Like a patient etherized upon a table” (ln 3) is the first non-rhyming line we encounter, and it sets the tone for the rest of the poem. While it is the evening that is described in this manner, it is truly the narrator that feels this way. He is vulnerable, detached from those around him, and numb. The connection between evening being heavy and slow is drawn to Prufrock in the personification that occurs in this analogy, and points only to our narrator. The line “to lead you to an overwhelming question” (ln 10) sets the stage for Prufrock’s struggle with indecision and the feeling that he is ‘in over his head.’ Even when enjoying a night out with “oyster-shells” (ln 7) – indicative of new love – he is still worrying tediously about the state of the relationship, and the work that will come to maintain it. This line also warns us of his tendency to think things over too much, and make himself confused, putting himself in a state of social paralysis. The repetition of the words ‘streets,’ ‘window panes,’ ‘yellow’ and times of day such as ‘evenings,’ and ‘mornings’ also serve several purposes; the simple repetition of these words throughout the poem creates a sense of the passing of time. Their function is to contribute to the theme of aging in the poem, as well as to highlight the passive nature of the narrator. These words are found as Prufrock is attempting to engage in or understand many things: relations with women, the nature of eating as a means of survival, and gazing out windows. In particular, the use of ‘streets’ represents the free public arena—a terrifying place for Prufrock to be, and the mention of ‘window panes’ indicates Prufrock’s position as a spectator of the outside world. The reoccurrence of ‘window panes’ throughout the poem indicates that Prufrock never becomes more than a spectator. Reoccurring imagery of places described as ‘yellow’ is also an interesting theme in the poem, mostly because it is the color of cowardice. This clearly tells the reader that our protagonist is a coward, but by rubbing “its muzzle on the window-panes” (ln 16) it also indicates that he is not happy, and in fact desires much more in life than he is apt to experience. The words ‘evenings,’ and ‘mornings’ function best in describing Prufrock’s aging as well as his never-ending battle with social anxiety; for him, it does not matter what time of day it is, or how much experience he has. It is unimportant to him that he has “known” these times of day (ln 50), because despite this passing time he has not learned how to handle himself socially.With the computer age, people experiencing increasingly common social anxiety are able to circumvent the disorder and feel socially safe by avoiding face-to-face contact with others, and by maintaining relations through the internet and real-time text “chat.” Prufrock achieved the same effect of false social safety by simply avoiding and sabotaging any deeper level of understanding or commitment he had the chance to achieve with another individual. Eliot makes this clear by using alliteration in words like “slipped” and “sudden” in line twenty, while leading up to Prufrock’s haphazard decision to abandon the pursuit of a woman, and how he instead finds himself on “a soft October night / curled once about the house…asleep” (ln 21-22). The protagonist makes an almost deliberate decision to disengage himself from the person he wishes to pursue on this undeniably perfect evening by not just sleeping but by protecting himself from social interaction inside a home that is clearly secluded and conducive to his tendency to recede.In addition to Prufrock’s reclusive nature, indecision plays a large part in the dysfunction of the protagonist: he mulls over the possibility that he might commit suicide, or that he might try again to approach a woman, and exclaims on his problem with decisions by asking the reader to help him decide if he ought to “eat a peach” (ln 122). Clearly this question is disturbing in light of the seriousness of the others; the fact that the other questions Prufrock raises are significant and at times life-threatening indicates his desperate nature, and conveys the feeling of being at the end of one’s ‘ropes.’ Prufrock goes so far as to compare himself to Hamlet (ln 111), a young man (which he is not), and one who’s failure to make decisions treats him only poorly.Prufrock also interestingly compares himself to John the Baptist by describing that he is so little desired that no one even asks for his “head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter” (ln 82). This passage clarifies that Prufrock does not understand how anyone could desire his company or recognize his presence even if he represented a threat; furthermore, he indicates that even if he were a person of power, he would be powerless because of his terrible inability to communicate. Prufrock’s fears revolving around his self-conscious state are explained: “[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”] / 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 narrator is concerned with his appearance, and how others will perceive him. He clearly makes an effort to look presentable and sophisticated, but still doubts himself in the company of others. This feeling of insecurity is similar to that of a rebellious teenager; the teen feels pushed aside, unappreciated, and misunderstood, as if not even an extreme action could give him what he desires. It is this insatiable need for recognition that also plagues Prufrock. He feels similarly where he asks the reader, “how should I presume?” after claiming that he knows life and women in lines 49-61. Clearly, he desires to be worldly and knowledgeable, but truly doubts himself when given the opportunity to tell others of his knowledge.At the end of the poem it is unclear if Prufrock dies in a mortal sense (presumably of old age), commits suicide, loses the qualities that have tormented him throughout the poem (that is, he is freed from his fears and insecurities), or grows insane. This discrepancy and lack of resolution supports Prufrock’s universality; by creating such an ambiguous ending, the author shows him to be defined more by his experience than by his mere humanity. The fact that Prufrock spends one hundred and thirty thoughtful lines examining the state of his plight and arrives at no solid conclusion can also be viewed as a message about the unhappiness that results from inaction.

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