Theme of Thomas Stearns Eliot??™s The Waste Land
Thomas Stearns Eliot, author of The Waste Land has been called the most influential poet of the twentieth century. The Waste Land first appeared in October, 1922, in the Criterion, a periodical founded and edited by Eliot.
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Tiresias is the central figure in the poem. Tiresias acts as a possible mouthpiece of the poet. He also functions as a connecting link between the various sections of The Waste Land.
Here waste means barren, infertile, dry, sterile, bare, dead and London city is the modern waste land.
The Waste Land divides in 5 sections:
1) The burial of the dead: opposition between sterility and fertility, life and death.
2) A Game of chess: juxtaposes the present squalor (Moral degradation) to a past ambiguous
splendor (A quality that outshines the usual).
3) The fire sermon: description of a squalid sexual encounter.
4) Death by Water: reinforces the idea of a spiritual shipwreck, it??™s the elegiac part.
5) What the Thunder said: evokes religions from East and West
The theme of the poem encompasses (include) simultaneously (at the same time) several levels of experience:
? The waste land of religion in which there are rocks but no water.
? The waste land of the spirit from which all moral and spiritual springs have evaporated.
? The waste land of the instinct for fertility where sex has become merely a mechanical means of animal satisfaction rather than a potent, life giving source or regeneration.
? The Waste Land shows the hopelessness and despair of individuals which is the quest for moral regeneration and spiritual salvation.
? The people in the waste land have problems with communication.
The main theme is “modern life as a waste land.” Eliot proved what was wrong with society in the early twentieth century. These shortcomings include lack of faith, lack of communication, fear of both life and death, corruption of the life-water symbol, and corruption of sex.
Water for example is a symbol of life, and in the poem, it brought death. The Waste Land has a setting of April, which was said to be the cruelest month, and rain is inferred along with it. But in connection to the title, the wasteland is season less and has to water to give life, and it continues to wait but in the end nothing seems to change.
Another major theme that was mentioned numerous times throughout is lust, or sex. Eliot wanted to tell readers that sex without purpose is like a game of chess, something to pass time with. In sex without love or purpose, there is no enjoyment. In section 3 ???The Fire Sermon,??? we are given a prime example of this. The typist is having meaningless sex with her boss. She is likely only sleeping with him for status, money, or power. The rape of Philomela is also sex without purpose because it isn??™t sterile. In ???The Burial of the Dead??? there is a reference to Tristan and Isolde which connects to Philomela and Tereus which suggests that love is destructive. Lils husband desires sex only to satisfy his body, not his heart and mind. Madame Sosostris cards are used for vulgar fortune telling, which indicates the steep decline of values in modern society. Finally, there were mentions of the world being turned upside down. What Eliot was trying to infer was World War-1 and how he was seeing the changes around him.
All of these themes are connected to the overall theme of the poem which is the sterility and waste that is everywhere that has taken the place of fertility and form which makes the poem religious. The Waste Land shows the hopelessness and despair of individuals which is the quest for moral regeneration and spiritual salvation.
Eliot is very discouraged about the society he has described as a waste land, but he does offer hope and a means of recovery. In Part V “What the Thunder Said,” the three interpretations of DA – Datta (give), Dayadhvam (sympathize) and Damayata (control) – are the keys to new life for the waste land. They are the antithesis of modern problems. If people learn to give, sex will gain new meaning as an expression of emotion and it will no longer be corrupted. If they sympathize with each other, they will be able to communicate their true feelings and listen to those of others. Finally, if they develop self-control, their faith will return and they will no longer fear life or death.