The False Promise of Being a Main Character…

Nicole Peeler
8 min readSep 16, 2023

On why we should embrace being an extra

A man standing with his arm outsretched in front of a waterfall that’s creating a rainbow.
Photo by Jared Erondu on Unsplash

I adore “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It’s a canonical mainstay that an English teacher has probably tortured you with, and that teacher might very well have been me.

One of my favorite parts of the poem (besides the glorious sibilance of “scuttling across the floor of silent seas” or the oft-quoted line about the coffee spoons) is the following stanza:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous —

Almost, at times, the Fool.

Any professor worth their salt will teach about how this stanza is rife with the poem’s themes of alienation, desire, anxiety, and disappointment. Sound familiar?

They don’t call Eliot’s cadre “Modernists” for nothing. It’s easy to imagine Eliot alive today, reading our current headlines.