I don't accept that the "Preludes" are wholly about TSE's experiences in a
poor neighborhood but since I am probably in the minority on this and
assuming that it is the case, I would ask the following.
Why question the steak and not the women gathering "fuel"? Was Eliot an
accurate protrayer of one image and not the other? Did Eliot during one of
his safaris into the jungle of a poorer neighborhood from the Brahmin
heights of Harvard happen to see an old woman pick up several scraps of
wood? Just as on another of those safaris he smelled the hard won and hard
earned steak that a working man and woman were preparing to eat with the
pride of self accomplishment and reward.
If your student's point is that TSE was a spoiled and privileged member of
an elite society, guess what, he/she hit the nail on the head. That is
precisely what Eliot was. He was also a gifted observer of life who wrote
carefully and was not prone to careless mistakes. The woman gathering fuel
and the presence of the steak in scenes of a poor neighborhood says much
about the courage and determination of my grandfather and his friends who
lived and worked in the cotton mills of Fall River, Ma without the "benefit"
of welfare and proudly grew families that are immensely proud of the grit of