The Waste Land

The use of multiple languages and references to other literature makes it difficult for the reader to comprehend The Waste Land. This directly ties into the state of the world following World War I because it was incomprehensible and confusing. Eliot utilizes English, French, and German languages, and the countries of origin for these specific languages all had major parts in World War I and were heavily impacted by the war. The seemingly jumbled mixture of these languages gives the poem a more fragmented and choppy style. For example, at the end of the first section, the narrator abruptly breaks out into French when he exclaims “You! hypocrite lecteur! -mon semblable,-mon free!” (76). It is possible that Eliot’s use of various languages served the purpose of illuminating the clash that occurs when all of these countries are united, as shown in the recent war.

Through including multiple narrators, Eliot confuses the reader and increases the complexity of The Waste Land. There were so many people affected by the war in different ways, and by including a variety of narrators Eliot is able to emphasize this vast impact. The various narrators are also tied together by some common themes. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker mentions how “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land” (1-2). The last speaker in the first section asks his friend “That corpse you planted last year in your garden, / Has it begun to sprout?” (71-72) which immediately made me think back to the speaker at the beginning. The idea of planting a corpse in the ground relates to the idea of a “dead land” and the sprouting might therefore be a reference to the “lilacs” previously mentioned. Eliot seems to be illustrating the cycle of life, and how the death of one generation brings about the birth of a new one. This cycle of life was especially prevalent in the many minds following the war, because so many deaths had occurred, especially the deaths of young men. This broke the normal cycle of life and death and made it much more complex, so Eliot might have felt the need to use a more complex metaphor to describe it. During the war, the waste land of battlefields would be strewn with dead bodies, and in the years after the war that land probably healed from all of those deaths and flowers began to cover the death and bring new life. This is one example of a link between the different narrators despite their seemingly different personalities.
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3 thoughts on “The Waste Land

  1. I agree with you that Eliot’s Waste Land” uses complex syntax such as metaphors and parenthesis provide the outlook of how WWI was for people at home. There was an example with the Tarot pack of cards and how the narrator asks “is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor” which foreshadows the deaths that happened in WWI and was common when one is stationed in the sea(47). It also shows how destruction can play a role in the lives of many WWI victims. Eliot uses the parenthesis throughout the poem to show the true mindset of the characters and express himself as well by being part of the narrator . An example of this is when the woman complains about the pills that are not working to alleviate her pains and the narrator claims “(she’s had five already, and nearly died of young George)” to show the true amount that she is experiencing when her loved one died in the war(160). It also shows how unstable her mind is like an addict on pills that make her take so much to try to forget the pain.However, I found that the there was a sense of uneasiness and confusion in the narrator when the women asks “my nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad.Stay with me” and how that the state of mind after WWI was in constant fear of what happens next and how that triggers a permanent sensation in the mind(111). This could also indicate this sense that the soldiers had PTSD that was misdiagnosed at the time and how that can also happen to those that are not in the battle field but are at home trying to cope with a traumatic experience that they had and unable to overcome it at a given moment in time. Another type of uneasiness is when the narrator described the woman taking the “pills” and how that is hard for her to cope with the losses in WWI (159). Also, Eliot is trying to show the state of people who lost their loved ones in the war as a uneasy task and a hollow sense of trying to take something for the pain that is never going to easily be forgotten. Why is the second section called “Game of Chess” when the passage is not about chess but about a different narrators in a troubled state of mind?

  2. I agree with your conclusions. In particular, I like your observations about the broken “cycle of life.” We see many references to this in the first section (The Burial of the Dead), such as in lines 39 and 40 where the speaker states that they are “neither living nor dead,” suggesting that the natural order (or cycle) has been severely disrupted. Phrases such as “the dead tree,” “the dry stone,” and “dull roots” help create this image of a dead and disturbed world. I would also add that through these references to the seasons, life, and nature the narrators are attempting to identify something good or worthwhile that has come out of WWI and are failing to do so. For instance, in lines 19 and 20 the narrator wonders, “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, you cannot say.” This reflects the anxiety that perhaps the devastation and destruction of WWI was for nothing or that it was only the beginning of something worse to come too horrible to be comprehended or understood.

    • I didn’t realize someone else had commented on this post when I did so. I hope it’s alright that this post has two responses.

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