Irony is a fundamental element of T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The title character is an unassuming man who is consumed by self-doubt and insecurity. Throughout the poem, Eliot uses irony to highlight Prufrock’s feelings of inadequacy and his inability to take action.
Irony is first used in the opening lines of the poem, when Prufrock says that he “should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” The image of a crab scuttling across the bottom of the ocean is not one that typically conjures up notions of grandeur or success. Instead, it suggests a life that is small and insignificant. This is an early indication of the self-doubt that Prufrock feels.
Later in the poem, when Prufrock is considering whether or not to make a move on the woman he loves, he wonders if she will think him a “brute” if he tries to kiss her. Again, Eliot uses irony to show how Prufrock perceives himself. He sees himself as a potential aggressor, even though all he wants to do is express his love for this woman. The irony here lies in the fact that Prufrock is so worried about being rejected that he doesn’t even try to make a move.
Eliot continues to use irony throughout “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to highlight the character’s flaws and insecurities. The poem ultimately paints a picture of a man who is paralyzed by his own self-doubt. He is unable to take any actions that would lead to happiness or success, and instead he lives a life of quiet desperation. While this may not be the most flattering portrait of a person, Eliot uses irony to create a sympathetic character that readers can’t help but feel sorry for.
With this line, modern poetry begins, according to Berryman (197). The poem’s urban environment is hostile rather than attractive. Eliot places his poem in a crumbling cityscape, “a dreary neighborhood of low hotels and restaurants where Prufrock lives alone in gloom” (Harlan 265), as a Modernist. The experience of Prufrock is contrasted with that of unnamed “women” (13) who represent womankind as a whole.
Prufrock’s perception of women dictates his interactions with them and causes him to see himself as unattractive and inadequate. Prufrock is an unheroic figure, a “shrimp” among the “great fishes” (Eliot 7). He is not assertive and he does not take risks because he is afraid of being rejected. Prufrock would rather stay in his comfort zone- his “room”- than venture out into the world and risk rejection.
The poem is full of Irony. Eliot uses dramatic Irony when he has Prufrock say that he should have been a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas (15-16). The line is Ironical because it is the total opposite of what Prufrock is, which is a coward that can never work up the courage to speak to women. Eliot also uses Verbal Irony when Prufrock says That is not it, at all (17).
The reader knows that it actually is it, but Prufrock does not realize it. This Irony furthers the idea that Prufrock is living in his own little world where he is the only one that matters. Prufrock’s perception of time also adds to the Irony in the poem. He talks about how time is passing him by and he will never be able to accomplish anything because he keeps putting it off for another day.
But at the same time, he is the one that is wasting his time by doing nothing. The Irony in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” creates a character that is easy to sympathize with because he is relatable. Everyone has felt like they are not good enough or like they are not living up to their potential. Prufrock is a representation of the human condition and Eliot uses Irony to highlight that.
Irony is a key element in T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The title itself is ironic, since the poem is not actually a love song, but rather a portrait of a man who is too afraid to declare his love. Throughout the poem, Eliot uses irony to contrast Prufrock’s failures with his aspirations.
For example, Prufrock aspiresto be a great poet like Dante or Shakespeare, but he is too afraid to even speak to the women he wants to woo. In this way, Eliot uses irony to create a sympathetic character who is easy for readers to relate to.
They will not listen to any Prufrock love song, nor would they find his name or person attractive. “A man named J. Alfred Prufrock would be unlikely to sing a love song; he seems too well-dressed” (Berryman 197). The word “jaundiced,” in particular, evokes prudeship. In the fourth stanza, the potent metaphor of a yellow fog (15) represents the jaundiced environment of urban life, or Eliot’s hellish version of Arden’s forest.
This is the first hint that Prufrock may be an ironic character. The second clue to Prufrock’s irony is his profession as a “salesman” (7). It has been argued that Prufrock is not really a salesman at all, but a poet in disguise, someone who sells words instead of goods. This would explain why he is so concerned with his appearance and why he is so afraid of being rejected.
If he were really a salesman, he would be used to rejection and would not care so much about what people think of him. The third clue to Prufrock’s irony is his use of the word “I”. Throughout the poem, Prufrock refers to himself in the third person, as if he were not really sure who he was.
This could be because he is not really sure of his own identity, or it could be because he does not want us to know who he is. Either way, it is another clue to Prufrock’s irony. The fourth and final clue to Prufrock’s irony is his age. He is probably in his early thirties, but he feels like an old man. This is ironic because he is still young enough to be hopeful and idealistic, but he has given up on life and on love.
In conclusion, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is a poem about an ironic character. Prufrock is a man who is too formal, too prudish, and too self-conscious to be able to sing a love song. He is also a man who is not really sure of his own identity, and who has given up on life and on love.