Analyzing Structure in T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (AIG IRP)
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is an excellent example of many of the concepts the poets were addressing at the turn of the twentieth century. Poets were experimenting with poetic form and responding to the destruction that consumed the Lost Generation. In particular, Eliot incorporates the spirit of the Moderns through his stream of consciousness form and the allusions found in Prufrock’s interior monologue. This lesson was developed by NCDPI as part of the Academically and/or Intellectually Gifted Instructional Resources Project. This lesson plan has been vetted at the state level for standards alignment, AIG focus, and content accuracy.
Brief Description of Lesson/Task/Activity: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is an excellent example of many of the concepts the poets were addressing at the turn of the twentieth century. Poets were experimenting with poetic form and responding to the destruction that consumed the Lost Generation. In particular, Eliot incorporates the spirit of the Moderns through his stream of consciousness form and the allusions found in Prufrock’s interior monologue.
Time Frame: 1 class period
Type of Differentiation for AIGs:
Adaptations for AIGs:
Explanation of How Resource is Appropriate for AIGs: This poem’s effort to capture the inner thoughts of Prufrock makes it particularly difficult for average readers to follow. To comprehend and analyze the content of the stanzas and how the stanzas are interrelated requires strong language skills to find the connections in the poems discursive structure.
- The full text of T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Stage 1: Engage
Explain/review the concepts of stream of consciousness as a literary technique as well as modern poetic characteristics such as a lack of traditional forms and quick, awkward changes in content and even inserts of other languages.
Many readers are able to gather that the speaker of the poem is at a social gathering by the end of the first two stanzas, but some may need to know that to begin.
Stage 2: Elaborate
To guide the readers through the first part of the reading, some questions may be helpful such as:
- In stanza 1, Prufrock doesn’t address a specific person in his proposition. What words or lines help you infer his intentions by the end of the stanza?
- Why do you feel he “leads [us] to an overwhelming question” line 10 only to find the thought of vocalizing it a bit repulsive or “overwhelming?”
- What does Prufrock see in stanza 2?
- How do stanzas 1 and 2 work together to create Prufrock’s experience?
- What is the relationship between the “yellow fog” and Prufrock’s condition?
- What are some symbolic intentions of the color yellow? Do they apply in this instance?
- Stanza 4 presents the process of what usually happens to Prufrock at these gatherings. What words in his summary begin to establish the tone, and, possibly, the outcome of the evening?
- Why repeat “In the room the women come and go/Talking of Michaelangelo” (lines 35 and 36) between the process mentioned in the previous question and how he feels the women analyze his physical attributes?
- Why do you think the unfinished idea of “lonely men in shirt-sleeves” (line 72) lead to his statement of being a crab?
- What significant event happens between lines 80-86?
- What is different about Prufrock’s monologue after line 86?
- Throughout the interior monologue Prufrock alludes to Lazarus, John the Baptist, Hamlet, crabs, and mermaids. What role do these allusions play in Prufrock’s condition?
- What do you think is Eliot’s intent to switch pronouns from “I” to “We” in line 129?
Stage 3: Evaluate
Two questions to check for thoughtful analysis are:
- How does Eliot use poetic form to establish Prufrock’s condition/situation?
- What do you feel is the most significant aspect of Eliot’s structure?
- Now that you’ve finished analyzing the poem, why do you think Eliot used “Love Song” in the title?
Possible thoughtful answers might include the stress Prufrock has imposed upon himself, the isolation of growing older in this social structure, or the efforts to create introductions to the women that he doesn’t even bother to finish.
Out of class extension: A quick survey of media will reveal no shortage of personas who, like Prufrock, mentally paralyze themselves to the extent that they can’t act upon their wishes. Your assignment is to explore how contemporary society presents these fears in a contemporary context. Choose one of the following:
Option I: Find an example of a character in a song, film, music video or other form of media and bring it to class. It will become an entry to a gallery walk. Along with the example include a written explanation of why the example you chose is a good representative of Prufrock in the 21st century. Your response must explain how the persona in your submission is like Prufrock and why the response of the persona is a credible representation of a contemporary character frozen by the inability to act and that the end is anticlimactic to the desire of the persona.
Option II: Create an ad, song, skit, comic strip, multimedia journal or a short film that takes the theme of Eliot’s poem and places it in a contemporary context. While it would be easy just to place a person at a modern party who never asks someone to dance, a rich submission would also spend significant time developing an appropriate way to incorporate a contemporary counterpart to the stream of consciousness techniques of Eliot. You will also need to submit a written portion along with your creation that: identifies what aspects of Eliot’s work you wanted to capture in your work; and how your creation is a worthy continuance of Eliot’s poem.
After students share, students should explore how language, narrative and images can shape a theme in different ways.
Teacher Notes: Two possible enrichments to this lesson involve multimedia:
- Thanks to the internet, students can find dramatic readings of this poem including one by the poet himself. These readings lend themselves to a fruitful exploration of Reading Standard 7.
- Also, the shift from stanza 1 to stanza 2 can be difficult to students. Viewing the transition from the “Dawn of Man” in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) might help students see how two disparate ideas can be connected. The shape of the spinning bone connects with the similarly shaped space station just like the imagined propositions connect with the passing women at the social gathering.