The Waste Land is a notable literary work by T. S. Eliot. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of The Waste Land.
The term ‘wasteland’ refers to the symbolic representation of modern civilization’s spiritual and social degradation. The poem contains the post-World War I world, full of desolation, fragmentation, and barrenness. Eliot uses various mythologies, literary allusions, and historical allusions to draw a modern, unfertile society. The wasteland is a metaphor for a society that is out of its purpose and becomes disconnected from the past. It draws a world that has lost its connection and understanding among its people. Overall, the poem serves the ill features of the modern 20th century and its people.
The title of the first section refers to the dual burial: (a) burial of the dead fertility and (b) burial of the English Church. The people of the wasteland are spiritually empty and do not want any change in this position. Regeneration is a painful notion for them. They cannot enjoy the month of April, which signifies the spring season and rebirth, because it reminds them about their moral and spiritual decay. Rather, they are fond of winter, which symbolizes death and decay, as they can enjoy their merriment during this period. If we go through this section, we can find several topics to interpret, which are as follows:
The story of a game of chess has been borrowed from Middleton’s play ‘Women Beware Women’, where this game is used to hide the molestation of a young girl by a nobleman. In this story, the poet wants to show the failure of modern men in sexual relationships. This section contains two scenes:
This section tells us that marriage is a matter of sex maintaining discipline and regulations, not excessive sexual relationships. However, modern people hanker after this tendency most, so they are barren and desolate.
This title has been derived from the sermon of Lord Buddha, where he says that the whole world is on fire: the fire of hatred, the fire of delusion, the fire of lamentation and misery, and so on. This section teaches us that lust destroys life and that one can overcome lust only through misery and pain. This idea is against the modern concept of sexual life without any social regulation. Let us analyze the section.
To conclude this section, lust, and rape bring corruption and decay to modern society. This practice prevails in all classes of society.
In this division, the poet represents water as a tool for purification and regeneration. Eliot uses two references to develop his idea, including Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ and the Egyptian god of fertility. Here, the poet tells the story of Phlebas, a young, handsome sailor who is drowned after a boring trading career. He gets no chance for purification as he does not follow spiritual values. The young sailor represents modern people.
In this section, the poet speaks for the liberation of society from desolation. This last and longest part of the poem represents a chaotic world full of destruction and despair. Here, we see illustrations of war, references to biblical stories, and allusions to Hindu mythology. This division starts with mentioning the term ‘thunderstorm,’ which can renew the natural elements. The section then sifts to the story of ‘Fisher King,’ an Arthurian legend who is represented as a symbol of spiritual and physical decay. The king, as well as his troops, molest women, which makes the king impotent and unable to rule his kingdom, resulting in making his kingdom barren and desolate. The king’s wound is metaphorical of the barrenness of his kingdom.
The resurrection of the king and his kingdom depends on a knight’s successful journey to Chapel Perilous. This dangerous place must be navigated if he wants to search for the Holy Grail, a sacred object that embodies divine grace. The knight’s journey represents a quest for spiritual redemption and enlightenment. The reference to “Christ’s disciples to Emmaus” is a biblical account in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:13–35). It describes the journey of two disciples who first confront the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus but cannot recognize him. Eliot uses this biblical story to explain a sense of lost faith and spiritual blindness in the modern world. The disciples’ inability to recognize Jesus is the same as the spiritual blindness and lack of connection of the modern people in the wasteland. The poet ends the poem by describing an event in ancient Indian history when people were entrapped by drought and famine. They seek divine help, and God replies to them in thunder.
Eliot prescribes three remedies to reconstruct the human heart from the Upanishads: ‘ Da, Da, Da.’ The first ‘Da’ means Datta (‘to give’). We have to sacrifice more than enjoy, as our martyrs do. The second ‘Da’ (Dayadhavam) is for sympathy. We must have sympathized with our fellow citizens. The last ‘Da’ (Damyata) refers to self-control.’ The author finishes the poem with a sense of hope and rebirth. Eliot terminates the poem by repeating the Sanskrit word “Shantih” three times, which is from the Hindu faith, and ends each Upanishad, meaning “The peace which passeth all understanding.”