The Youth in Prufrock’s Fragmented Mind

In his lifetime, T.S. Eliot created many wonderful works, far from the least of which being “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. In this work, our narrator Mr. Prufrock is considered the perfect example of a modern man, one who is highly-educated, possibly emotionally stunted, and is currently allowing us into his fragmented thoughts surrounding a potential interaction with a woman. Eliot starts out the poem with an excerpt from Dante’s Inferno, in which Dante asks a damned soul, and receives a reply that implies that neither Dante nor the soul with ever leave the Inferno. This opening gives the reader an insight into who Prufrock is talking to, someone who will never tell the secrets of his thoughts, and if we assume this person is also the woman Prufrock is making his love song for, then she will of course never tell his secret thoughts because the thoughts are trapped in his head, never for her to hear. This leads to an initial instance where Eliot gives an expression of youth, where youths seem to have a tendency to be trapped in their own thoughts, not always taking the actions that they desire, for example when a young child might keep a diary filled with their deepest thoughts and emotions, but never let those thoughts reach the world. A youthful sense of fleeting thoughts can be found in the fragmentation of Prufrock’s thoughts within the work, because while they may exhibit the neurotic ways of the narrator, they also give rise to a young person jumping from one idea to the next, never stopping on one long enough to develop it but instead to overwhelmed by all the new and wonderful ideas that come from aging and maturing.

Next, as Eliot enters into Prufrock’s real thoughts, he delves into deeper ideas of the youth during this modern and changing time. Prufrock says that “there will be time, there will be time” when talking about meeting people and taking any and all actions, and I wonder if this might be less of what an aged person would think but what a youth would envision (line 26). Young people tend to believe they have plenty of time, time enough to do everything, see everything, experience everything, and of course, talk to the girl, but age can bring the sad enlightenment that, there really isn’t that much time after all. Prufrock makes notes of what others would say of him “how his hair is growing thin” and “how his arms and legs are thin”, while he notes all the days he has had and all the faces he has already seen (lines 41, 44). Prufrock seems to believe he still has plenty of time left, like a youth would believe, but Prufrock finds (from the perspective of his imaginary outside observers) that he has already grown quite old and he is running out of time. Towards the end of his work, Eliot brings about one other youthful expression with the inclusion of his passage about Prufrock not being Hamlet. Prufrock states he is instead “an attendant lord, one that will do to swell a progress”, while admitting that “I grow old … I grow old”, making Prufrock the goal of youth, to come from the place of delusional thoughts about time and avoiding action, to the place where Prufrock knows who he is, what his role is, and what little time he has to play his role (lines 112-113, 120).


One thought on “The Youth in Prufrock’s Fragmented Mind

  1. This is an excellent summary of all the ways that T.S. Eliot shows youth. I think he puts a modern twist to it in that he never comes to a real conclusion. He experiments, like Dr. Drouin said, with a style and an idea. He probably did not write this for a moral lesson to keep in form with his colleagues. It seems more that he was simply experimenting with some new idea, perhaps the idea that youth is a mental state not a physical characteristic like you allude to. The very fact that it is thoughts inside the narrator’s head points to the idea that this is declaring youth a mental state. This idea seems further supported by lines 45-49, “Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.” I think he is saying that within a moments time he can make a decision or have a thought that will change the universe, a very youthful statement. However, could he also have been saying that just because he had such a speedy thought that he, an aging man, was defying a “universal” rule that the youth think youthful thoughts, but the old thought more mature thoughts.

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