The Late Night Revelations of a Lit Student- Psychoanalyses of Prufrock and Woolf

Words are the sweetest wine
Literature and psychology are connected in more ways than you think!

As a university student studying in a triple major system initially I summed it up as being the jack of all trades and the master of none. However, a background in psychology actually helped me cram for my Lit final (making it feel a lot less like cramming), in ways I never thought possible. Questions and self theorising sprouted from these moments of insight, perceiving connections between the two humanities subjects where there are no formulae to dictate direct proportionality as in physics and mathematics.

As I began reading T.S Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ , thoroughly disinterested as my eyes skipped over the epigraph, by the end where Prufrock claims to be drowning in his own self, I was hooked. More than that, I wanted to analyse his personality to answer the wave of unappeased questions flooding into my mind. Why was he so unloved by women became a more often overlooked observation as to why Prufrock did not love himself. This may be the reason why Eliot changed the initial title of his poem ‘Prufrock among the Women’.

Eliot’s adept writing skills are demonstrated in this poem, experimenting with the form of the dramatic monologue by removing the implied listeners and substituting them with Prufrock’s own self. How you may ask? Well go back to the start and read the first line, ‘Let us go then, you and I’. You and I are said to be the two personalities existing within the same persona, that of Alfred J. Prufrock-one which is shy and ashamed and another longing to be loved and looking for attention.  This is an example of a rift between the real self and ideal self that exists within the same individual. The greater dissimilarity between the two, the greater one is dissatisfied with oneself. Such is the case of Prufrock.

How Prufrock feels in the end of his monologue
How Prufrock feels in the end of his monologue

On reading the poem it is clear that Prufrock is a wallflower watching the world from his introverted perspective and he has lived long enough to wish that he were a part of the scene he was surveying. When Prufrock discusses the tedium of small talk and how he cannot indulge in the same, it is apparent that he is an introvert wanting to be an extrovert thus causing his dissatisfaction. This is probably what brought on what I consider to be a midlife crisis as he laments ‘I grow old…I grow old…’ Also, his self esteem seems to be attached primarily to attention received by women and hence both are severely lacking.  These are only some contributing factors to his inner turmoil which in turn defines him.

Now, moving on from poetry to prose, I started reading ‘A Room of One’s Own’, the feminist bible written by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf

When she said, “A woman, in order to write fiction, must first have money and a room of her own.”, she inadvertently propounded the basic thesis underlying Maslow’s hierarchy, the humanistic approach to motivation. Maslow stated that in order for higher level needs such as the development of self esteem and close relationships to be satisfied, lower level needs of food, water, shelter and security need to be taken care of first. Only then will any individual become self actualised, a state wherein they find their unique potential and unlock it. By saying money and physical space are needed to cultivate the mind’s creativity, Woolf is saying just that-in a perhaps more literary manner. So did Woolf, the author of the feminist bible, unknowingly stumble upon the groundwork of a well known psychological theory? Yes but she was far too busy speaking about Oxbridge and Shakespeare’s imaginary sister Judith to realise. This calls into question whether, if Woolf had been the one to propose the hierarchy in her time, would it have been published in scientific journals and become as well established as it is today? It’s a difficult question and it seems as if only Virginia Woolf herself could have answered it. Ah, the irony.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

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