Arnold and Eliot

         T.S. Eliot’s fragmented and broken poem, “The Waste Land” contrasts greatly with Arnold’s notion of culture as the “study of perfection” (Arnold 1596). While Arnold’s view of culture is based in his idea of the perfection of man through the “idea of the whole community, the State,” Eliot depicts in “The Waste Land” that there is “nothing” that is able to hold culture together, the individual nor the state, in the face of war. Eliot demonstrates that Arnold’s idealistic views of a culture not in the “bondage of machinery” and rather immersed in “sweetness and light” are not able to stand in the face of “the agony” brought by the machines of World War I (Arnold 1596, Eliot 324).
         In T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land,” Eliot illustrates the chaos and brokenness of England and English culture that has been brought about through the horror of World War I through a blending of high culture and low culture. Eliot takes lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night,” to illustrate  the insanity that has descended on the culture destroying the idealistic view that man should be in a constant state of striving for “sweetness and light.” Than Eliot also employs the low culture of an Australian war song, “O the moon shone right on Mrs. porter and on her daughter/ they wash their feet in soda water,” in his depiction of World War I’s trenches. Eliot’s blending of high and low culture contrasts with Arnold’s strong belief in the “lightness” of high culture.
         The contrast between Arnold and Eliot is also seen in their depictions of the individual. While Arnold believed that a subtle loss of individualism to form a more united state would spare the country from “anarchy,” Eliot’s poem suggest that the loss of individuality leads to anarchy and destruction.


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