The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Teaching Guide
- 11 pages
- Subject: Allusion, Character Analysis, Historical Context, Imagery, Literary Devices, Metaphor, Setting, Themes, Vocabulary, Lesson Plans and Educational Resources
- Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
Additional The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Resources
Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic text has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While it has its problematic spots, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will offer them a challenging but ultimately manageable introduction to literary modernism, complete with some of 20th-century poetry’s most striking, famous imagery.
About This Document
Owl Eyes teaching guides have been designed to help first-time and veteran teachers open up classic works of literature for their students. Our guides provide rich background information, identify key themes and topics, and offer creative and practical approaches to teaching the text.
The main components of each guide include the following:
- A concise history of the text
- An explanation of significant allusions
- Teaching approaches and discussion questions
- Tricky issues to address while teaching
- Alternative teaching approaches
- A list of complementary texts
These teaching guides offer valuable context and promote meaningful discussions about novels, plays, poems, and stories that have captivated English Language Arts students for generations. Each guide is comprehensive and concise, thought-provoking and practical.
Approaches and Discussion Questions
Comprehending Stream of Consciousness: A key to understanding “Prufrock” is recognizing that Eliot’s primary aim is not to tell a story or depict a setting. Instead, Eliot intends to reveal what goes on inside Prufrock’s head, using a literary technique known as “stream of consciousness” writing. (James Joyce and Virginia Woolf were among the contemporaries of Eliot who also experimented with this style.) The “stream” flows from one thought to another, often triggered by subconscious associations. The meaning of the poem is achieved less by traditional rhetorical or narrative techniques than it is by the associative cascade and juxtaposition of ideas and images.
- For discussion: How much of the poem sounds like it could be a description of actual events, and how much is coming from Prufrock’s imagination? Is it possible to tell the difference? How can you tell?
- For discussion: Who might the “you” be from the opening line, “Let us go then, you and I”? Is it the same “you” who’s mentioned later in the poem?
Discovering Prufrock’s “Overwhelming Question”: In the first stanza, Prufrock refers to an “overwhelming question,” and for the rest of the poem frets about whether he dares “disturb the universe” by asking this question. He never articulates, though, what the question is, and ultimately he declares, “It is impossible to say just what I mean!” A central topic for any discussion of “Prufrock” is “What’s his question?”
- For discussion: Prufrock is unable to put his question into words. Ask students to do it for him. What do they think he might be trying to say? Why can’t he say it?
Additional discussion questions:
- Eliot uses repetition throughout the poem. How does this affect your understanding of Prufrock as a character?
- Discuss Prufrock's views about love. Why do you think Eliot titled this a "love song"? If you were to title it, would you keep it the same or change it? Why?
- Explain what "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" says about the way Prufrock has lived his life.