Eliot differs from the conventional love song. It is rather the melancholy mutterings of a displaced, inhibited man. Whether "The Love Son of J. Alfred Prufrock" was meant to be an expression of love or not, I feel the true distinction rests in the importance of action and awareness. His inactive existence has caused this distortion of reality, fear of confrontation, and draws upon the daydream/nightmare he lives in. Prufrock misses his mark by having paralyzing awareness with no action. Having missed his chance at love, he fades into his final dream where he swims with the mermaids out to sea and drowns, passively accepting the death of his long sought triumph by sinking into a somber, dispassionate existence.
Eliot begins the poem with an epigraph from Dante's Inferno suggesting that Prufrock speaks only because he is sure no one will listen and what has or has not been done will remain in that state. The person whom these confessional thoughts are directed appears to exist in a realm imperforable to Prufrock. The imagery of "a patient etherized upon a table"(3) and "half-deserted streets"(4) paints a somber picture, implying a dark soulless setting, adding to the seclusion set forth by the epigraph. "Streets that follow like a tedious argument/Of insidious intent" (8,9) describes the route chosen by Prufrock and is a dismal reflection of his own existence. Prufrock's awareness of his current state emphasizes his inner turmoil, neurosis and hesitation regarding the "overwhelming question" (10) we are lead to believe will be either answered or revealed along this journey. Contrary to the endless circuitous steps taken by Prufrock in his dialogue, the epigraph from Dante's Inferno is essential for mirroring his descent without ascension. .
As we continue on their venture, Prufrock finds distractions and forms excuses to avoid his initial intention to reveal this question. They enter a room filled with what seems like a crowd of trivial, yet ostentatious, sophisticated folk bantering back and forth about culture, status, and success.