Modern and Contemporary Poetry - Essay Example

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S. Elliot’s The Wasteland is dysfunctional, oppressive, and cold. Though the poem seems to be based on the society of England, as there are several clear geographical references like “the London bridge” (427),…
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Modern and Contemporary Poetry
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s Relationship of Individual and Society in T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland The relationship of individuals and society, as depicted in T. S. Elliot’s The Wasteland is dysfunctional, oppressive, and cold. Though the poem seems to be based on the society of England, as there are several clear geographical references like “the London bridge” (427), “King William Street” (66) etc. but he has this poem actually portrays the post World War 1 Western society in general that faced a massive decline in terms of spiritual and cultural values.
The poem has many speakers, each with unique identity and a unique story to tell. Interestingly, each speaker seems to have suffered at the hands of society in one way or the other. The post World War 1 Western society according to Elliot is not an integrated unit of individuals. In fact, it is just “a heap of broken images” (22), which suggests that the individuals are detached from one another and fail to form a functional society. It is like “the dead tree” (23) that cannot provide shelter to anyone. It reflects an awry state of society whose foundations have crumbled and its individuals are left alone.
In the first poem “The Burial of the Dead”, it becomes apparent from this line:
“In the mountains, there you feel free” (17) that individuals want to run away from such a society because they feel trapped by its laws and cultures.
This line evokes an innate desire of individuals to break away from the oppressive traditions of society and seek refuge in the mountains, where one can exercise the freedom of self. The effects of the First World War on society and individuals were irreparable and it has been portrayed by the gloomy imagery in this poem. “Unreal City, / Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,” (60-61)
A quite depressing state of society that survives under “the brown fog” has been portrayed in these lines. It is quite possible that Elliot is metaphorically representing the society as the brown fog, which gives a sense of oppression and stagnation because this blanket of “brown fog” doesn’t let in light or fresh air. It is suffocating for the individuals to live in such society that doesn’t give them the freedom to grow.
In the second poem, “rats’ alley” (115) could be a reference to modern society that has turned into a narrow place with no light or fresh air. It gives a sense of a place where the characters, values and lives of human beings are decaying. One also gets an impression that the society Elliot is talking about is so cold that it dampens the spirit and will of the individuals to move on in their lives. “But at my back in a cold blast I hear/ The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.” (185-186)
However, the individuals are still hoping and waiting for a response from the society they are living in to wake up and to rescue them. “when the human engine waits/ Like a taxi throbbing waiting,” (216-217) This is because their fate depends on whether society would respond to their call or not. This line suggests that individuals are dependent upon society to grow but in the absence of a supportive society, the productivity and creativity of the individuals might die.
This stanza from the last poem reflects the state of modern society that lacks any sign of life. Water symbolizes life but it is a dead society without water. “Here is no water but only rock” (331). The rocks symbolize the hard and rigid rules and customs of society that deny the individuals their basic rights of life. Ironically, the rocks do not offer shelter to people but only confine them in its lifeless zones.
In the last poem, the line: “Who is the third who walks always beside you? “ (359) points towards the fact that individuals are always bonded with the societies they are living in. But in this case, it is dead society shrouded in a “brown mantle” (363) that doesn’t have a face or a name because its identity has been lost
Elliot has portrayed how the constant reverberations of World War 1 haunt the individuals and the society in The Wasteland. The individuals depend on the society to pull them out of that mess because if society doesn’t bind them together, they will be lost because the constant pull from the past events doesn’t let individuals to move ahead in their lives. It is the responsibility of society to play a positive role in reconstructing the lives of the individuals.
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Elliot, T. S. The Wasteland. Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University, 2000. Web. Read More
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