Alfred Prufrock" he continually writes of Prufrock's struggle to answer his life's "overwhelming question." (10)With what is J. Alfred Prufrock is so desperately struggling? He tussles with his intrapersonal paralysis to pursue women while making attempts to stave off aging. This indecisiveness creates a very bleak and semi-morbid image throughout the poem. Eliot's beginning and ending to this poem very strongly convey this, Prufrock's internal battle.
The epigraph of the poem is a passage from Dante Aligheri's Divine Comedy, more specifically the Inferno. The Inferno is Dante's journey through the rings of Hell in his search for enlightenment. Eliot uses this theme to support Prufrock's feelings that he is stuck in his own personal hell. Another similarity between the two works is the descending theme. In the Inferno, Dante travels further and further down through the rings of hell on his way up to the heavens. In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Eliot starts his description at the skyline slowly works his down to a finale in the sea. .
The first ten lines of the poem are the beginning of his austere descent to discover his inability to "eat a peach" (Eliot 124) with a peach being a traditional metaphor for a woman's genitalia. Eliot uses the metaphor of "a patient etherized" (3) to Prufrock's incapacity to engage the women who he looks upon, as a cat outside a window, throughout the poem. Prufrock appears to be lonely, so Eliot gives him the companion of the unknown listener (the reader) to escort him in his downward spiral. Prufrock's emptiness is conveyed "through half-deserted streets," (Eliot 4) "muttering retreats," (Eliot 5) "one-night cheap hotels" (Eliot 6) which leads the reader to wonder what it is that has made his world so bleak. The reader gets the feeling that Prufrock is untrusting of the world, as though he is being swindled into trying to find the answer to his "overwhelming question.