The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock


At first reading The Love song of J Alfred Prufrock it could be assumed that by both the nature and the title of the poem is an ordinary, traditional romantic love poem. The speaker being the “I” – Alfred J Prufrock – and the “you” being his object of desire or his love. However through close observation and through the exploration of the subjectivity within the poem it can be seen that the “you” and the “I” are two personalities of Prufrock.


According to Mayer the poem puts across two points of view of the same person in the form of a soliloquy. The poem reflects concerns about self identity and how it is divided into the public mask and the private self. The “I” is the subjective, private self who submits to the more objective, public mask of “you”.


This can be explored from a Freudian psychoanalytical point of view in terms of the ego and superego. According to Sigmund Freud these two aspects make up two components of a person’s personality.


The Ego can be considered to be the executive of the personality. It is both servant and master to the id whose sole purpose is to serve instincts (sex, food etc.) by seeking objects that will gratify these instincts and urges. The ego thereby controls the id and these impulses by weighing alternative courses of action.


The superego is considered to be the personality’s socialized and internalized moral standards. The ego and the superego are thus often in conflict as the ego seeks to gratify the id but is often controlled and regulated by the superoego’s moral code of what is right and what is wrong. Thus we can say the conflicting “I” and “you” in the poem can be seen as Freud’s ego and superego in conflict. The ‘I” or the ego is in desperate need to break free of the regulating superego (“you”) but in the end id to late and simply continues as before.


The description of the evening (through which the two selves must travel) is describe through the eyes of the speaker and thus takes on a subjective point of view. The metaphor of etherization puts forward the yearning of the speaker (“I”) for stillness.


”Let us go then, you and I,


When the evening is spread out against the sky


Like a patient etherized upon a table.”


The action throughout the poem is restricted and only really takes place through memories and interchange within Prufrock’s mind. The interchange between the two personalities and the description of the streets that “follow like a tedious argument” possibly describes how the “I” feels about the “you” and the continual conflict that is experienced between the two. The nature of the streets and the slightly seady part of town with it’s “one-night cheap hotels” and the “sawdust restaurants” perhaps suggests the type of question and it’s possible answer.


Within this interchange there is both a sense of urgency as well as a panic, almost an abrupt halt. According to Moody, the urgency belongs to the “you” and the panic-stricken mental and emotional block belongs to the “I” who refuses to answer the question of “what is it?”. The first stanza is concluded with no enjambment or run on lines into the next stanza and in a sense suggests that the question of where and who they (I and you) are going to visit will be answered. (MOODY. 1979)


The question is immediately answered with, “In the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo”. We are then immediately drawn back to the streets and this journey to the destination.


It would seem that the description of the streets once again takes subjective view by the “I” as it takes place as an interior monologue or soliquay in the psychological confrontation continuing between the “I” and the “you”.


The fog being described as a cat is similar to that of the depiction of the “etherized” sky symbolizing or being a reflection of the attitude and the mental and emotional state of Prufrock. Cat’s have connotations of sexuality and sensuality. They are also renowned for being sleepy and even lazy. This sleepiness correlates with the description in the first stanza of the “etherized” sky and communicates