To the Lighthouse is the one Virginia Woolf novel I’ve read that seems to present the war in a fairly broad and historical perspective – certainly more so than the other stuff I’ve read of hers in the past, anyway. The perspective is interesting, especially when connecting it to her stream of consciousness writing style. The first section “The Window” being set before the war, not much chaos or havoc has ensued yet but still a lot is going on (if a lot wasn’t going on, Woolf probably would not have written 100+ pages for that section). With their being a story to tell of the Ramsay family and other characters in question here, Woolf would probably need to make use of multiple perspectives. All seems peaceful, and then suddenly, Time Passes, and with the passage of time, there is presence of war.
In the second section of the novel, “Time Passes”, the Ramsay residence has apparently been empty for a decade, but more importantly, the war still is happening France. In parantheses Woolf records the deaths of three major characters, one of which is Andrew Ramsay, whose death is recorded as: “[A Shell exploded. Twenty or thirty young men were blown up in France, among them Andrew Ramsay, whose death, mercifully, was instantaneous.]”, which presents a bit of irony – and “twenty or thirty” suggests that there was such high disregard for individuals and their names, because in death they merely become simple statistics.
The way that Beckett uses a setting that is one outside of history in order to critique the history of Western Civilization itself, to me, does not seem so different from the way that Eliot uses and engages with the real history that is going on, or that has gone on in terms of Eliot’s own work, The Waste Land, although in some instances it can actually be very different.
Endgame is a cycle going back and forth; endless, and because of that there will never be a “finish”, despite Clov saying “It’s all finished, nearly finished” – I too thought it was interesting to look at these words and this phrase as being relevant to waiting for the end, or perhaps there is a bit of confession here in the sense of “We’re done for”, – meaning of course that they never stood a chance, or if they did, they don’t after stating those words. Eliot’s The Waste Land makes it seem like because of how things turned out thanks to the war, they should give up, so the same thing applies to both texts in that sense.
Wordsworth’s poem is very good about incorporating all of the Romantic period Aesthetic ideas, those being the beautiful, sublime, and the picturesque — but Wordsworth especially seems to like to utilize the picturesque in his writing. The Abbey represents a surprise found along the winding Wye River, and surprises are characteristic of the picturesque. Also, the abbey represents how time passes, and the way things are temporary is also characteristic of the picturesque. The reason that the picturesque might be more important to “Tintern Abbey” in particular, rather than either of the other two aesthetics, is that in the first lines “five years have passed; five summers, with the length / of five long winters”, where the sense that there is a sense of something merely temporary there, as it is given the impression that the speaker returns to a place that they had been fond of at one point in time. It is again evident when Wordsworth writes, “Nor wilt thou then forget / That after many wanderings, many years / Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs, / . . . were to me / More dear”, in this case he would be trying to tell his sister although he’s been gone for a long time, nature was always significant in his absence. This theme relating to Nature definitely referred to the use of the Aesthetic of the Picturesque in the text.
The Waste Land draws on a wide range of cultural references to depict a modern world that is in ruins. The world of The Waste Land is one in which sterility and waste have replaced fertility and traditional order. The structure of the poem itself mirrors the chaos of the post-war world. Eliot’s use of fragmentation in the poem demonstrates the disordered state of modern existence.
This fragmentation is achieved through a collage of literary texts juxtaposed against one another. Most lines in the poem echo an academic work or literary text, complete with footnotes written by Eliot referencing his sources. Scenes appear and dissolve abruptly, sometimes seemingly at random. Characters appear, are prominent for a moment, speak, and then vanish. For example, a character named Marie appears briefly in the beginning of the poem: “And I was frightened. He said, Marie, / Marie, hold on tight. And down we went. / In the mountains, there you feel free. / I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter”. Having been named, she disappears; the fragment ends abruptly and a new scene begins. This mix of bits and pieces of dialog, images, ideas, and languages represents the modern world, with its excess of sensory perceptions and chaotic, fractured society. Lines of the poem itself hint at its structure: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins”.
Another aspect of the fragmentation is the constant shifting of time. The past, present, and future are inextricably linked; the poem constantly shifts its perspectives, seeming to jump from the past to present and vice versa. Ancient myths, classical literary works, and landmarks in Western history are all frequently juxtaposed in the context of contemporary events, casting new light on both the past and the present. The echoes of literary works, often referenced in Eliot’s footnotes, are fragments themselves, mere pieces of full texts. These fragments emphasize recurring themes and images in literary tradition and link the contemporary state of humanity to past history.
This fragmentation also suggests the dilemma of the modern artist: how to find an adequate poetic form and expression to convey one’s inner experience. The poem suggests that the conflicted state of the world is so chaotic that traditional methods of poetry are inadequate to convey the modern experiences. The modern artist is forced to recreate old myths and draw upon past literature in order to sufficiently express one’s own meaning and experience, yet even this form of recycled poetry seems deficient; the use of literary allusion creates ambiguity in the meaning of the poem, thus poetry itself seems to fade into obscurity.
The Waste Land expresses the chaotic life of both individuals and society and reflects on the despair that seems to have overtaken the modern world. The poem uses fragmented scenes and literary allusions to lament the ruin of modern culture and seek renewal in the cultural past. The fragmentation of the poem’s form represents the disillusionment and fracturing of modern society.
The stories of “Eveline” and “Araby” are different in a way, — Araby seems to deal with some kind of an epiphany or realization; the characters lose their innocence or realize their priorities are wrong or something of that nature. But Eveline, on the other hand –
I find that in “Eveline” while she does fall into a mental breakdown, she doesn’t necessarily realize anything. I almost get the impression that the indecision and uncertainty froze her brain to the point of stillness. While she never certainly makes the decision to leave with Frank, she doesn’t make the decision to stay either. Rather, her fear holds her immobilized. That’s just one way in which these stories are different.
I found the live readings to be a lot like a play from my background in theatre. The tone of voices and just hearing a voice added so much more to the overall experience for me. I think that has to be the most interesting. Yes, we read them in class and read over the darkness that these individuals faced or the ideas that were thrown at them, but just like with any play it comes to life when it read out loud. So as I look over these for the final it became more real to me at least. It really gave it perspective. Yes, I thought that the visuals also added to the experience, but live voices and interviews really put the edge on it all.
Both “The Waste Land” and “Endgame” critique western society, however I think that they do in different ways.
In the “Endgame” Clov and Hamm go through the same routine, however when it comes to moving forward they speak of being sick of the same patterns but do nothing. What I thought was interesting was Clov’s line on page 2581 when he says “It may end. All life long the same questions, the same answers.” Beckett employs the idea under the common saying that “history repeats itself”. That is how he deals with western civilization: the same thing happens over and over again. However, in this piece the characters do the same routine, even down to the same physical actions. They recognize that life changes as Hamm states on page 2582 “But we breathe, we change! We lose our hair, our teeth! Our bloom! Our ideals!” But just like the society Beckett is critiquing, his characters fall into their same routine, allowing history to repeat itself. What I think is interesting is that many situations repeat themselves in the short one-act. For example, they bicker over Hamm taking his pills multiple times. And even despite the recognizing of changes, it ends the same way it began: with a handkerchief, in a chair, motionless. This is written in the post-colonial era where the empire was falling, and Beckett responded with an absurd play that ended like it began, repeating its history. Was he trying to say that the empire’s history repeated itself and now is stuck for good? I am not positive, but it seems likely.
“The Waste Land” on the other hand treats history in a slightly different way. In lines 19-22 Eliot writes, “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man/You cannot say, or guess, for you know only/a heap of broken images…” (2298-2299). What I think he means is that out of the “rubbish” of the British Empire lay pieces with no hope of repairing. The entire piece is slightly depressing and dark in that finding a sense of optimism becomes a lost cause. It is slightly different than Beckett in that no where does the history have the chance to repeat for it is broken–like modernity.
Both were shedding light on the bleak future of the British Empire, but from what I perceived, Beckett is showing how the history has repeated itself and became mechanical while Eliot has shown that it has been left broken because of what the Empire did in the past. Regardless, they both look upon modernity and what it has become with regards that are not the highest.