Fragmentation and War

T.S. Eliot employs a great deal of fragmentation in his work, “The Waste Land.” The poem is divided into five sections, each given their own titles and each containing some form of independent theme/idea. This structure automatically establishes divisions—or fragments—in Eliot’s work. However, even within each designated section, the fragmentation continues. From stanza to stanza, there are evident shifts in focus, whether that focus be a theme, a work to which Eliot is alluding, or even a language that Eliot is writing in. For the most part, each stanza seems to be pretty unified. It is when each stanza is put together, however, that there appears to be no logical ordering to these ideas. For example, in Section I, near the end of the second stanza, Eliot is alluding to Tristan and Isolde (42). In the next stanza, Eliot abruptly jumps topics to discuss “Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante” (43). These two topics are completely unrelated, and it is very hard to see Eliot’s reasoning for leading from Point A to Point B in these lines.

The experience of reading “The Waste Land” is quite difficult because it appears to be nothing more than a stringing together of semi-related events; it is very hard to see the bigger picture while only experiencing one scene at a time. This structure of poetry strikes an interesting comparison to the structure of war. For instance, while studying WWI, it is fairly easy to understand the significance of individual events because history allows for a perspective that includes the “big picture”—the war in its entirety. For a soldier fighting in the war, however, this perspective would be impossible. This soldier may not feel like he was experiencing the “war,” but rather that he was experiencing nothing more than a stringing together of semi-related events (battles). The fragmentation of Eliot’s poem invokes the obscurity and meaninglessness of individual experiences that lack proper context. This could very well be a demonstration of the confusion of soldiers caught up in an event so much bigger than they could understand at the time. Eliot’s poem, like war, leaves a feeling of confusion about the past and questions about the future. Ultimately, both experiences leave the individual who endured the experience asking “what was the point?”

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2 thoughts on “Fragmentation and War

  1. I really like your interpretation. I never really thought about relating the separate events in the poem to the seemingly separate events of the War. I too think that the poem is deliberately difficult in order to leave the reader experiencing disillusionment with the text that mirrors the general disillusionment of the Lost Generation, and the way that you phrased it (“what’s the point?”) I think really sums all of that up.

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