T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Also for Introduction to Literary Studies at Bryant University, this class time was mostly devoted to a “close reading” of Eliot’s modern love epic. I begin by making connections between the text and our first day of class, in which we discussed some essential conventions of literature as described by Jonathon Culler. I point out Culler’s notion of literary self-reflexivity in relation to Eliot’s study of Dante and his beginning “Prufrock” with an epigraph from The Divine Comedy. Together, we apply one method of the interpretation to the first stanza of the poem, for which I write guiding questions on the board. We used this method twice before in class. I ask students to consider key words from the passage and any pattern or relationship that might be established among them; they should think about the tone or mood suggested by these words; they should pick out any significant imagery, etc.; finally, students should determine how they believe the passage fits in with the whole text, how it distinguishes itself and relates to the rest. After we examine the first stanza together, I put the students into groups and assign various stanzas to each. In the following class, each group chooses a partner to write their collective notes on the board while another member explains their process. My goal was for students to critically interpret and vocalize those interpretations several times as a way of trying out their perspectives while having them challenged.

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