The Waste Land

T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” acts as an archive of culture. He mixes high culture and eloquent language with low culture and colloquialisms. For example, Shakespeare is quoted on line 48 which harkens back to high literature, but then in part II. A GAME OF CHESS, one speaker informally says “It’s them pills I took, to bring it off” (line 159). Such informal dialogue seems unusual, but somehow seamlessly blends into the work. Matthew Arnold would naturally disagree with such writing. Arnold promoted reason and right understanding. His view of Culture was the study of perfection to attain sweetness and light. In this way, “The Waste Land” can be viewed as a kind of critique of Arnold’s idea of culture.

One definitive example of this critique is Eliot’s use of fragmentation. He writes that “The barges drift/ With the turning tide/ Red sails/ Wide/ To leeward, swing on the heavy spar” (lines 268-272). These fragmented phrases form broken images, but Eliot still gets his point across, albeit in a difficult way. Yet in contrast to Arnold’s points about reason, the difficulty of Eliot’s work and all of it’s fragmentation increases it’s power rather than degrading it. The wealth of references to every manner of literature and history also increase it’s effectiveness by making it a universal message. Whereas Arnold focused on individual thought and self improvement to promote culture, Eliot blends many voices to reach one modern idea.

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2 thoughts on “The Waste Land

  1. I like the way you pointed out the mixing of high and low cultural elements. The confused jumble of the two is definitely a sign of the modern age.

  2. I also liked that you mentioned the mixing of high and low culture. Your argument is well-supported. You successfully provide a good comparison of the works and share your own preference.

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