The Waste Land and WWI

The Waste Land is a very complex poem that uses multiple voices and quotations to connect with the reader and share a point about World War I. The entire poem begins with a Latin reference to an ancient Roman figure, Sybil, wishing she could die, which sets the dark tone for describing the aftermath of World War I. The poem then follows with rotating narration that cycles from a woman describing April with German quotations to the description of a hyacinth girl to a tarot card reading, and finally to a man walking through London who is able to see a dead man he knew from the war. The purpose of so many voices could be to show the vast impact of the War; it seems to me that what appear to be unconnected stories come together in the last bit of Part 1 with the French quote “hypocrite lecteur!- mom semblable,- mon frère!” This statement stood out to me most because I saw it as a way of bringing attention to how everyone was affected by the war. Particularly how it is not just the soldiers who have lost and carry the weight of many dead ones on their shoulders.

Another tactic Eliot uses is quotation for indicating speaking of characters in the poem. This stood out to because it is not something I typically see in poems. Particularly, the section in Part 2 where the woman wonders “Where the dead men lost their bones. What is that noise?” She seems to be going slightly insane and with the reference to dead men alludes to the fact that the war and the significant number of dead might be having an effect on her mental stability. This point is only further proven when she later wonders, “What shall we do tomorrow? What shall we ever do?” The sentiment this woman expresses likely mirrors how must of Europe was feeling in the wake of this catastrophe as they questioned what now becomes of their lives.

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One thought on “The Waste Land and WWI

  1. I totally agree with you on what you say. The fact that T.S. Eliot uses multiple voices in this poem shows that not only soldiers carried the weight of dead men but everybody, since everyone was involved in a way or another ; in an international one (with all those quotes from foreign languages) but also in genders and society since we have those several points of view. Each people seems lost and like living-dead people l.40 “I was neither / Living nor dead”, and the lexical field of death is present everywhere, as if life had never existed. People are too shocked to start living again, they live with fear. We understand that, for instance, Marie had some effects on her mental stability since right from the start we have reference to her childhood when she was afraid and that her cousin reassured her as he could, saying “In the mountains, there you feel free”. This maybe implies that now she doesn’t feel free anymore but stuck with all the psychological consequences World War I had on people. No matter which voice is speaking, they all are in the same state of mind, especially at the end of part II “Goodbye Bill. Goodnight Lou. Goodnight May. Goodnight.” (etc.), it is exactly as you said, Sybil wishes she could die, and these last sentences sound like this person wanted to make sure she said goodbye to everybody, it is a special goodbye before falling asleep into an endless one.

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