The Waste Land’s Literary Devices

What I found the most fascinating about The Waste Land was Eliot’s use of literary devices. Eliot’s poem presents a story of what it’s like to live in the 20th century, which is an oversimplification of this poem at best. Much like the inconsistency and uneasiness of the 20th century, the Waste Land lacks any true structure. The poem will have flashes of structure and at most blank verse such as in the beginning of section two, A Game of Chess. In the end though, this all falls apart. Another element that Eliot uses is enjambment. In parallel with the time period, Eliot writes this poem with a lack of closure, conclusion, and confusion. The lines bounce too and fro and never truly connect. An example of this is when Eliot wrote, “Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing” (39-40). This style is Eliot emotionally influencing the reader to feel what the 20th century felt like; confusing, lacking closure, and despairing. On top of this, Eliot’s multiple voices provide a scene that leaves the reader perplexed, like in the middle of a crowd of unfamiliar faces. This isolation appeared to be a personal journey for Eliot and one that also encompassed the feelings of many people of the time.

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2 thoughts on “The Waste Land’s Literary Devices

  1. I agree that the structure of Eliot’s poem leaves readers with a feeling of confusion and isolation. Another aspect of the aftermath of WWI that Eliot focuses on is the reunion of husband and wife. Eliot implements the repetition of the phrase, “Hurry up please it’s time” five times in the last section of Part II. of “The Wasteland”. From footnote 4. of line 141, we learned that this was a common Irish phrase used by bar owners to alert people that the bar would be closing soon. This is significant for a couple reasons. First, the characters in this section are women and so to place these words in a woman’s mouth could imply that the woman became the boss of the pub and assumed a man’s role/identity during WWI. This notion is further implied in the lines, “You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique” “(Eliot 154). Here, a woman is accusing the other of developing hardened looks which would have been very frowned upon in the previous period, the Victorian Era. It is evident now that times have changed and women can longer focus on solely being a “wife,” and all the Victorian’s placed on that role; they assumed new responsibilities as the men left for war which blurred the lines of the household. Secondly, the mood of these women’s conversation is very blunt and depressing, which is ironic because the return of a spouse from a long absence should generally be a joyful event. In Eliot’s poem, however, the woman whose husband is returning is reluctant to assume the typical roles and duties of a wife and the other woman warns that her husband may show infidelity to her if she doesn’t perform these wifely duties. This is altogether a very depressing look inside a marriage and shows the melancholic and lost mood of Europe as WWI came to a close.

  2. Your view of literary devices presents a convincing argument about the anxieties of World War I. However, your blog post has room for much more analysis. In particular, I would add a paragraph of repetition. Although you could choose any part of the poem, the lines “And if you don’t give it him, there’s others will, I said./ Oh is there, she said. Something o’ that, I said/ Then I’ll know who to thank, she said, and give me a straight look.” The exchange of dialogue, repeating ‘he said and she said’ mirrors the cyclical exchange of the battle field. The idea that the conversations imitate battle suggests an anxiety over World War I in the form of PTSD, called “shellshock” at the time. The conversation seems to get no where when addressing the soldier’s will to have a good time, similar to the bloody stalemate of the western front in which the lines of battle seldom moved more than a few miles throughout the entire war. More on the focus of repetition, the line “Hurry up please it’s time.” is repeated throughout. It is an anxious, urgent call to do something, much like the dreaded “Over the top!” order during the war. The repetition of this phrase brings out the constant reluctance of not wanting to charge across the “no man’s land,” also known as “the wasteland.” The literary device of cyclical repetition imitates in itself the how World War I raged on in reluctant mutual obstinacy for many years, in fact getting absolutely no where.

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