Allusions are a sort of reference that the author uses by directly or indirectly mentioning someone or something outside of the context to enrich it with a specific meaning. Consequently, if a reader knows the reference, he might be able to better understand and see the author’s work from a different perspective, also experiencing a pleasant sense of familiarity. “The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” written by T.S. Eliot, is filled with allusions. To a person who does not see through them, a poem can still be enjoyed as a romantic and philosophical monologue; however, it truly shines when the allusions are seen and understood.
The love song starts with a verse from Alighieri’s “Dante’s Inferno.” It is about Guido da Montefeltro – a count Dante met in hell; he feels ashamed for his actions during his life, and the story that he tells Dante resembles a confession. Eliot draws a parallel between Guido da Montefeltro and Prufrock since they both suffer from shame and think the sharing will only bring infamy, but they share their stories nonetheless.
Twice in the poem, as a refrain, appears the mention of women speaking of Michelangelo. This allusion can be interpreted from extraverted and introverted perspectives simultaneously. For the former, it sheds some light on the women’s erudition – whether pretentious or not, it indicates a certain cultural level. For the latter, Prufrock might be comparing himself to those women, feeling insecure about making a move on women who have cultural superiority over him.
Every allusion that appears in the poem contributes to the insecurity and ambiguity of the main character. The religious allusion to John the Baptist portrays Prufrock as an insignificant, simple person, but a consequent comparison to Lazarus implies Prufrock still wants to be heard. His Comparison to Hamlet only deepens the ambiguity, raising the question both characters share – “to be or not to be?” Wishing the oblivion as da Montefeltro, feeling ordinary as John and in contrast to Hamlet, but having the resolve of Lazarus to share the story – this is how Eliot portrays Prufrock through his strategy of allusions.