The theory of objective correlative, as propounded by T.S. Eliot in his critical essay on Hamlet, emphasizes a sort of synthesis between the object of imitation and the author’s emotive response to this. In fact, this stipulates the intimate assimilation of the object and the emotion so that one spontaneously evokes the other. What Eliot implies here is that the emotion roused must have a sufficient basis and the poet or dramatist, whoever he may be, is to be alert enough to highlight adequately the object that stirs the required emotion.
As a matter of fact, what Eliot views is that the poet’s emotion, feeling, and experience are to be combined effectively with the object he imitates and the situation in which this is placed. In Eliot’s view, the artistic inevitability lies in the complete and apt synthesis of the external object and the internal emotion.
Eliot’s concept of the objective correlative is found well applied to his celebrated early poem The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock. The central theme of the poem is the overwhelming sense of despair and the passivity of a middle-aged inhabitant of the modern metropolis. He suffers from emotional vacuity, resolution, and indecision in a situation that is seamy, squalid, and sordid. The very urban setting reflects the protagonist’s mental state-his timidity, hesitancy, and neurosis. Indeed, the poem well represent the just fusion of environmental anesthesia and mental debility and this is finely echoed in the very lines-
“When the evening is spred out against the sky.
Like a patient etherised upon the table”
Eliot’s Prufrock is actually a modern man, a middle-aged average modern man, without any robust personality, steadiness or determination in his plan or purpose. He is rather a neurotic character, created in the urban environment, one who feels easily confused, bewildered, helpless, and not certain of his actual intention or the objective of his pursuit. Prufrock is truly no eager lover, with an intense share in the passion or pang of love. On the other hand, he is an unsteady intellectual of modern metropolitan life, who is prompted to weigh every issue carefully and not responsive to the spontaneity of his emotion, has desires and inclinations, even romantic, but lacks courage and conviction for any bold venture or prompt execution.
Indeed, Alfred Prufrock, as Eliot presents him, is a typical modern man who sees and knows thoroughly well modern life with all its emptiness, sophistication, and insignificance. The triviality and vanity of this life are patents to him and he has neither any illusion about nor any attachment to this life. Like an over-conscious, rather a despondent intellectual, Prufrock, under the oppressive environment of modern metropolitan life, thinks of himself as a sort of worm, wriggling on the wall. The insignificance of his life is frankly admitted and his narrow approach to this life is heard in his frank confession-
“I have measured my life with coffee spoons.”
Prufrock as a dweller of urban civilization, is, as already indicated, unambitious, rather cowardly, and has no venturesome spirit. He is well conscious of his physical debility and personal limitations and prefers to remain in a state of uncertainty than to run after a big venture and receive a shock as an effect. As a matter of fact, he lacks the vigor of a mind to undertake the stress and strain of eventuality and chooses to evade rather than to act, to postpone, rather than to dare. This consciousness of his own deficiency follows from the deficient environment in which he is forced to live.
Indeed, Prufrock’s monologues serve to reveal the hollowness of modern life, with all its artificiality and insignificance. As an average modern man, as drawn by Eliot, Prufrock is found to suffer from indecision and irresolution, and that is found in the constant repetitions of his love song. In fact, the entire monologue is a penetrative account of an average modern man’s sense of indecision, hesitation, and tendency to evasion. There is not the slightest impulse of love, nor anything of passionate attachment to make Prufrock’s monologue a song of love. The whole situation exposes the ironic contradiction, inherent in modern metropolitan living to which Prufrock is a pathetic prey.
Thus we see this poem The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock expresses the overwhelming sense of despair and the passivity of Alfred Prufrock, a middle-aged inhabitant of modern metropolis and Eliot’s objective correlative theory is found perfectly applicable for this poem.