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I would rather be a crab...

I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
Eliot, ''The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'' -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

These two lines really struck me as odd. Basically Prufrock is saying that he would rather be a crab instead of a man who is expected to talk to women. I find this a ridiculous desire. For one thing, I would have far too many cravings for crabmeat as a future crab. No, seriously, this statement just emphasizes Prufrock's pathetic lack of self-confidence. Throughout the poem, he redundantly states that, "There will be time, there will be time;" however, he never utilizes this time. Instead, he compares himself to a number of tragically heroic men, such as John the Baptist and Hamlet, stating that he is not a prophet nor a prince. Indeed, Prufrock is not like them; he is neither tragic nor heroic, just simply pathetic. Eliot even refernces Dantes' Inferno at the beginning of the poem, implying from the start that Prufrock is damned. This implication establishes a melancholy tone of failure that runs throughout the entire poem. No offense, Prufrock, but I don't think I'll be taking notes from you.

Comments (3)


If you do not think Prufrock is pathetic, then what do you think he is? Even if your answer is that you think he is simply normal, I would still argue that he is pathetic in this normalcy. For, example, Prufrock has "watched the smoke that rises from the pipes/ Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves... In other words, he is not the only lonely man out there. However, I think that Eliot's intentions in depicting these lonely men is not to simply depict Prufrock's normalcy, but, rather, to depict the pathetic nature of this normalcy. The fact that Prufrock can be identified with these lonely men simply proves that he is pathetic among the pathetic. Indeed, Prufrock has basically resigned himself to this pathetic state of normalcy. I doubt that normalcy is truly what any of us strive for. No, the fact that Prufrock desires more than this "normal" life, but is too scared to seek it, that is what makes him pathetic.

Lorin Schumacher:

So, you think that by the lines that state Prufrock would rather be a crab might mean that he is pathetic? So basically, you are saying that crabs are pathetic? Somehow, I think there is more to it than that (and if it was I would be very offended if I were a crab!)

I think, perhaps what he is getting at with this line is that sometimes it might be easier to be a creature like a crab that only has to worry about survival and basically acts very much on instinct, unlike him, as a man, who struggles with intellectual and moral questions about his own existence. Of course, I am not 100% sure...I have always done a poor job of interpreting poetry, but I just doubt that Eliot is trying to say "wow, this Prufrock guy is pathetic."


I definitely agree with your assessment that sometimes it would be easier to be a simple minded crab than a complex human being. Nevertheless, while I agree with this statement, I do not think we as humans should focus on the desire to be a crab. Doing so only proves that you are afraid of life, unable to face reality, and, quite simply, a coward. It is this cowardice that I find pathetic in Prufrock.


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