Question: Discuss the fusion of the past and present in the poem The Waste Land. Or, Fusion of past and present The Waste Land
“The Waste Land” by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) is a very important landmark in twentieth-century literature. The basic theme of the poem is the disillusionment of the post-war generation and the sterility of the modern man. The poem reveals the disillusionment caused by the First World War. It vividly illustrates the complexity and machine-like activity of modern man comparing with the glorious past of spiritual and moral highness. However, to focus on the present situation critically, Eliot has used the technique that is the fusion of the past and present in the poem The Waste Land.
Animal pleasure and monetary benefits of sex
Sex is an important aspect of life. It is an expression of love and means of birth or procreation. But today sex has been perverted from its proper function and is being utilized for animal pleasure and monetary benefits. It has become a source of moral degradation.
We find in the poem the picture of three Thames daughters who live on being the objects of sexual enjoyment in exchange for money. The mechanical sex relationship is also found in the love affair of the typist girl and her boyfriend. Not only that Eliot also draws the picture of a homosexual relationship exemplified through Mr. Eugenides. Such perversion of sex results in mental disorder, boredom, frustration, despair, and hopelessness of the modern man. It is allegorically expressed by the helpless crowd flowing over the London Bridge.
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.”
Thus, the poet shows that the malfunction of modern sexual relationships is starkly in contrast to the marital sexual relationship of the glorious past.
Degradation of standard life
In the past, the source of inspiration and achievement was faith. People really believed in Christian values. Elderly people were respected, but today the values have changed. Money is the god of modern people. Older people are hated. Christians go to the church as a matter of routine. The people begin their work at 9 o’clock which was the time of Christ’s crucifixion. The result is that Christian faith and compassion are no longer regarded as objects of life. This has resulted in general deterioration of standard life.
Loss of sympathy and brotherhood
In older times, people believed in an intimate human relationship. There was the joint family system, under which resources were cooled and the needs of all were supplied. Today there is the fashion of single families. There is no sentiment of sympathy and compassion for the members of distant families. Each one thinks only of his own interest. Each one is imprisoned in his own self. We have lost the key of human sympathy and brotherhood.
“We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison.”
Supremacy of money
Our values are different from those of the past. we evaluate everything in the terms of money. Mr. Eugenides is an example of a modern businessman. He carries his contract, sample, and documents and transit business in the hotel. He is also fond of homo-sex and fulfills his desire with hotel boys. Similarly, the company directors and the executives enjoy their leisure time with the beautiful girls of riversides.
“And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors
Departed, have left no address.”
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Psychologically, modern people are not satisfied with their getting. In the poem, we notice allegorically that Lil is frustrated because she is a woman of thirty-one and fails to hold her husband who wants more and more sex. Similarly, the fashionable society woman, the lady of the situation is bored with her own life and has become extremely neurotic. Her lover suffers from mental exhaustion too. That is why the poet says:
“I think we are in a rat’s alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.”
Malfunction of politics
An important cause of the disintegration of modern civilization is the enormous power wielded by politicians. They have the power to make war against other countries, without consulting their own countrymen. Millions of people were affected by war directly and indirectly. They had to wander as refugees in search of food and shelter. Their lamentation filled both plains and hills.
In conclusion, we can say that Eliot vividly depicts the chaos and decay of European society after World War I. Eliot portrays the current chaos and brings the relationship between the past and the present through the enjoyment of the mythical system.