Prufrock and Gatsby: Modernist Men

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SWBAT analyze multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem by identifying characteristics of the Modernist movement in another work of literature.

Big Idea

Measuring life out with coffee spoons: Pitiful Prufrock bears a resemblance to the Great Gatsby.


The crux of this lesson is for students to identify characteristics from two works of literature from the same time period and examine how they treat similar themes.  In The Great Gatsby, author F. Scott Fitzgerald presents class differences as a major stumbling block for Gatsby in his pursuit of Daisy.  In "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the speaker appears to face the same dilemma as he frets over missed opportunities in wooing a woman of some means.  Additionally, both works reflect a realistic portrayal of unrequited love--although Gatsby seemingly has the affections of Daisy, their relationship takes on the appearance of affectations rather than affections.  Essentially, both these units examine the sometimes misguided and hopeless pursuit of the American Dream--an overarching theme in Modernist works.

Daily Language Practice

10 minutes

In this short section of the lesson, we do some grammatical review.  I call it the Daily Language Practice.  I put two sentences with grammatical mistakes on the projector or overhead.  The class writes the sentences on paper.  I then solicit the class to volunteer which errors they see.  This is a great activity to begin class.  It allows for a smooth segue to English class, and it offers a great review of grammar for the SATs.

This activity is CCSS aligned as it demonstrates command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

SAT Question of the Day

10 minutes

Teacher uses the attached link to show the SAT Question of the Day on the projector.  Teacher engages students in a whole-class discussion on finding strategies to answer the question.

Unit I Vocabulary Review

10 minutes

I assign students one vocabulary word from a list of words in the poetry unit, which I teach alongside the latter part of The Great Gatsby.  The vocabulary list has words on one side and definitions and other information on the other.  Students will find their word in the poetry as we read and determine the meaning through context.  If needed, I will instruct students to look up the word in the dictionary if further clarification is necessary.  As we come upon the selected vocabulary words in the poetry, the student assigned to the word will offer his or her definition.   It should be noted that context may be difficult because this is poetry; however, we move forward anyway and use roots and connotations to arrive at meaning.

To reinforce the meanings of words, I will instruct students to create flashcards of all words by writing the word and definition on one side of the flashcard.  They also include the connotative meaning of the word or what the word sounds like as related to its definition.  The also provide a synonym and antonym, and they use it in a sentence.  

On the other side of the flashcard, students create a graphic representation of the word's meaning.  This assignment is done for homework.  For the first 10 minutes of every class until the vocabulary test (given one week after distribution of vocabulary list), I will give students an opportunity to flip through their flashcards with a partner to reinforce definitions.  I chose the selected words based on those words that I thought students would have trouble with.  Many words are necessary to understand the poems or they are just words that we really don't use any more, such as,

Review Prufrock

30 minutes


For homework, students read the poem and answered questions regarding "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."  I play the attached video of T.S Eliot reciting the poem with accompanying visuals to help students comprehend the events of the poem. Following a whole-class discussion with regard to the major points of the poem, I ask students to review the notes that they took on the T.S. Eliot the day before.  (I simply go through the questions and randomly pull a popsicle stick to choose a student.) 

I then ask students to find four examples from Prufrock (text evidence) that exemplify the characteristics of modernism: break from the literary traditions of the past, reflect realities of twentieth century (non-romanticized version of life), and showcase the uncertainties of modern life.  Depending on the level of the class, I may have to offer hints, but I want students to see that Prufrock has a very realistic view of himself and the women, "How is hair is growing thin!" (Prufrock) and "Arms that are braceleted and white and bear/ But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!" 

Structurally, the meter does not have a prescribed length, and there is no rhyme scheme, which demonstrates a break from the literary past.  As far as expressing the uncertainties of modern life, Prufrock in the poem is lamenting his tendency to procrastinate and be overly cautious.

Finally, I ask students to draw some parallels to Gatsby.  Specifically, both men pursue a women out of their league and there appears to be a class difference.  Prufrock is described as wearing "morning coat" and "collar mounting firmly to the chin" indicating that he may be a butler.

These responses are recorded in a quick write.  I may have students work with a partner if they seem to struggle finding answers.