Through the detachment from history and absence of time Beckett establishes in his play Endgame, Beckett is able to illustrate the meaninglessness found across Western Civilization post World War II. Just as Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land” emphasizes meaninglessness and numbness, Beckett’s play profoundly demonstrates that life post-world war no longer holds meaning. Both Beckett and Eliot’s works demonstrate that society found their means of coping with the emptiness left by the war through the mechanical routine of day to day life. Beckett’s characters’ actions and dialogue are almost painfully mechanical and minimalistic; yet it is so to exemplify the mechanical, numb routine society had fallen into. The play begins and ends with Hamm in the exact same position, “motionless,” demonstrating the play’s theme of stagnation and meaninglessness.
Beckett’s use of time or rather, his purposeful lack of time and place in history is a different approach than Eliot took in “The Waste Land;” yet both works equally communicate the futile sense of existence that hung over society due to the world wars. Beckett’s characters lack purpose and meaning in their lives to the extent they are looking forward to death, “finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished” but the future as well as the past is illusory (2579). The past, present, and future is illusive because of the absence of time, making it impossible for the characters to find hope in their present state or in the future because death is taking so long to come.
In the section “Time Passes,” Virginia Woolf detaches the story from many of her main characters and uses descriptions of nature and the decaying house to illustrate the disruption and death brought by World War I. Woolf depicts the dehumanizing impact of World War I on England through the narration’s shift from her focus of the main characters to a focus on the despondent passing of time as the war breaks the family away from their peaceful past. Woolf shows the turn from the contented, love-filled lives of the Ramseys to the “confusion” and questions that ask “what, and why, and wherefore” brought on by the war.
Woolf demonstrates this disruption of peace and beauty brought by World War I through the death of the story’s heroine, Mrs. Ramsey. Woolf also shows how the war dehumanized death by only briefly mentioning the death of Mrs. Ramsey, Prim, and Andrew. Woolf shows the loss the war brought to society by not only showing the massive amounts of death on the battlefield, “among them Andrew Ramsey,” but also the destruction of the home through the deaths of Mrs. Ramsey and Prim.
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.
In reading through BLAST magazine, I was very impressed by how well the editors illustrated their revolutionary ideas throughout the magazine. As others have already commented, it is most interesting that Pound and Lewis were striving for a literary revolution through “violent” writing just months before the literal violence of World War I broke out.
BLAST boldly demonstrates a push towards a revolutionary model of modernist writing through the individualistic, satirical style and the playful imagism employed. The “Manifesto” is primarily comprised of short, extremely satirical sentences, phrases, and words that fall under the authors’ characterization of “blast” or “bless”. I was pleasantly surprised by the comical value of the work, particularly seen in the manifesto. The style of the work clearly employed clever imagism in the concise, choppy writing style that still manages to flow and pop off the page from their revolutionary typography. The interesting typography of the magazine adds to their individualistic style and emphasizes the satire and imagism of their work.
Though James Joyce’s short work entitled “Araby” is a prose sketch, Joyce employed aspects of modern poetry to shape its narration. The modern form most prominently displayed in Araby is Imagism. Joyce did not appreciate the wordiness, exaggeration, and extra details common to Victorian literature. His writing purposely spares the reader unnecessary details by approaching the story with frank concrete style. However, within his direct style he also makes the reader dig for multi-dimensional layers of meaning.
In “Araby,” Joyce takes the reader through the eyes of his pre-adolescence boy narrator onto the dark streets of Dublin to experience Dublin’s “state of paralysis” through the paralysis of his narrator (Joyce). While his text is filled with poetic forms of personification, imagery, and illusions, Joyce does not veil these techniques with wordy fluff or victorian sentimentality. Joyce purposely brings the story to a quick, abrupt ending by bringing his narrator to a sudden “moment of epiphany”. Joyce’s narrator is figuratively “blind” and self-consumed in his “love” for his neighbor who, in actuality, he knows as little more than a “figure defined by the light from the half-opened door” of the house across the street. However, he is quickly brought to a somber epiphany which marks the sudden end of his crush and thus, the story as a whole when the dark commercialism of the world around him opens his eyes to see the harsh reality of the adult world in comparison to his childish disillusionment- “gazing up into the darkness I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity.”
Though Elizabeth Gaskell’s work “Our Society at Cranford” is primarily the charming dramatization of an eccentric, town striving to maintain their idyllic ways in the midst of the growing industrial world, it also carries strands of social Darwinism. As poverty is a key theme in Darwin’s theories, it is likewise a prevalent theme running through Gaskell’s work. However, while Darwin considers poverty a “great evil” that “tends to its own increase by leading to recklessness in marriage” the ladies of Cranford were apt to “overlook all deficiencies in success” and resolved themselves to the everyday struggles of poverty (Darwin 1282). While they saw poverty as a “vulgar fact,” the ladies of Cranford considered themselves “quite sufficient” without the interference of men in their lives, and found their spinster ways of “elegant economy” made them “very peaceful and satisfied” (Gaskell 1433,1434).
However social Darwinism converges on the society of Cranford when the young and likable Miss Jessie enters into a happy and fruitful marriage with the gentleman, Major Gordon. Her happy marriage serves as a contrast to the short, pain-filled life of her sister, Miss Brown, and reflects Darwin’s theory of the “survival of the fittest.” Miss Jessie’s successful marriage and motherhood also highlights the waning era of the aging spinsters of Cranford and suggests holes in their struggle of existence. While Darwin would meet the struggles of life and poverty displayed in the town of Cranford with harsh eugenics; Gaskell, on the other hand, is able to approach these same struggles of life with a soft touch filled with charm and humor.
In Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach,” Arnold expresses a few of his regrets over the modernizing of his country, but in particular, he portrays regrets over the increasing detachment from nature. His poetry laments “we are here as on a darkling plain/ swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/ where ignorant armies clash by night” (35-38). His poem suggests his cynical view that appreciation for faith and nature is a “withdrawing roar/ Retreating, to the breath/ Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear/ And naked shingles of the world” (Arnold 25-29).
His work, Culture and Anarchy, goes even further to lay out his views on modernity. In this work, he specifically attacks the rise in machine driven industry. He sees the Industrial Revolution leading the people away from the culture of “sweetness and light” towards a passionless uniformity (1596). He also fears an indoctination of the “masses” to a conformed “set of ideas and judgments” leading them away from “a sheer desire to see things as they are, natural and proper in an intelligent being” (1596).