.. pecially detached from society and burdened by his awareness of it. He thinks “I should have been a pair of ragged claws/ Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” Eliot not only uses imagery here to create a picture of a headless crab scuttling around at the bottom of the ocean, but he uses the form of the poem itself to help emphasize his point here. The head is detached from the crab, and the lines are detached from the poem in their own stanza, much like Prufrock wishes his self-consciousness would just “detach” itself. This concept is echoed in the very next stanza when he says, “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in/ upon a platter,”(83), an allusion to the beheading of John the Baptist by Princess Salome.
These two headless images represent Prufrock’s desire to be rid of his self-consciousness (obviously in his head) and possibly some suicidal tendencies which can be tied into just about all of the ambiguous questions Prufrock asks of himself throughout the poem. Prufrock’s series of questions can also be tied into his unsuccessful attempts at relationships with women. His insecurities keep him from doing the things he wants to do; he feels inadequate and unable to express his true feelings to women, “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,/ Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?”(79-80). He knows what he wants to say, but doesn’t have the confidence or mental capacity to put his feelings into words. He compares himself to Hamlet, “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;”(111), who, in contrast, was able to express his feelings very successfully to his lover – an ability which Prufrock is envious of, characterized by his emphatic “No!” He is also second-guessing himself constantly throughout the poem: “Do I dare?”(38), “So how should I presume?”(54) and “Then how should I begin”(59) are all questions Prufrock repeats to himself during his monologue.
His feelings of inadequacy toward women are not only related to his appearance and lack of mental strength, but to the passage of time and its effect on him. Throughout the poem, Prufrock struggles with the concept of time. He tries to keep reassuring himself that “indeed there will be time”(23), an allusion to a love story (Andrew Marvell – To His Coy Mistress – “Had we but world enough and time.”) which suggests that Prufrock fears that he will in fact not have time for love before the prime of his life is over. His obsession with the passage of time is characterized by its repetition throughout the poem, especially the beginning of the poem. Eliot uses time as a tool to shape Prufrock’s complicated, disturbed psyche into the form of a mid-life crisis.
Prufrock keeps assuring himself that, “indeed, there will be time” to do all of the things he wants to do in his life, but first he must come to terms with his insecurities. However, his insecurities are related to his aging and the passage of time, so he is truly a tragic, doomed character. This is not to say, however, that Prufrock is unaware of the connection between time, his aging, and his unsuccessful attempt at a social life.. on the contrary, he claims that he’s “measured out his life with coffee spoons,”(51) a true testament to the self-proclaimed insignificance of his life. Prufrock claims that “I have known them all already, known them all-“(49) referring to the “evenings, mornings, and afternoons”(50) of his life which he has seen pass by, insignificantly. He also says “And I have known the eyes already, known them all-“(55) and “I have known the arms already, known them all-“(61) which illustrate both his failure with and fear of women. Ironically, Prufrock dreams of saying: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/ Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”(94-95), a biblical allusion to Lazarus, an elderly man brought back to life by Jesus – unfortunately for Prufrock, even if his dream came true, he still wouldn’t know what to tell them all, or how. Prufrock echoes the old cliche “Ah.. to be young again; and know then what I know now.” Unfortunately for Prufrock, it will take a miracle to make him either younger or give him the knowledge he seeks. Eliot doesn’t give any sense of hope for him in the poem – he remains a doomed character until the very end.
Prufrock even admits that he has “seen the moment of my greatness flicker,”(84) – a victim of time and natural selection. Prufrock’s connection to nature and the cycle of life is also an important factor in understanding his state of mind. In the third stanza, Eliot creates an image of yellow fog, connecting Prufrock’s consciousness and emotions to nature in a lazy, animal-like way. This connection echoes not only the insignificance of Prufrock’s emotional state in a “natural world” context, but the futility of Prufrock’s efforts should he try to contend with Mother Nature and change his behavior – relating to Prufrock’s feeling of entrapment and inability to change his situation. He wishes to himself, instead, that he could be a mindless crab, scurrying around the bottom of the ocean; another example of Prufrock’s impression of his position in the natural world – rarely comparing himself to real people. In fact, in his dream sequence at the end when he imagines how his life might end up, he envisions himself as an ocean creature, surrounded by mermaids “Till human voices wake us, and we drown.” Once again, Eliot disconnects Prufrock from the real world. Even though Prufrock’s fantasies to be a crab, swim with the mermaids, be young again like Lazarus, talk to women about Michelangelo with the poise and eloquence of Hamlet, slink around the city like a lazy yellow fog, and have his head chopped off like John the Baptist give him a detachment from his day-to-day worries about love and aging, he will never stop torturing himself trying to figure out that “overwhelming question.” The only hope that Eliot gives the reader out of this poem is the hope that we don’t end up like Prufrock.