The Waste Land, written by T.S. Eliot, is poem portraying the lack and/or the corruption of culture in England during the post WWI period. Eliot uses a form of symbolism, in which he uses small pieces from popular literary works, to deliver his message. He begins by saying that culture during the post WWI period is a “barren wasteland.” Eliot goes on to support this claim by saying that people in England are in a sort of shock from the violence of World War I. Eliot believes that the lack of culture open doors for immorality to grow among the populace.
Eliot’s use of symbolism can be very disorienting. It has been proposed that this choppy medley is actually furthering his point by representing the “ruins” of a culture. An article by Glyndŵr University states that, “Eliot wants us to experience that sense of fragmentation for ourselves, and this is why the poem uses a kind of collage technique - assembling chunks of texts together in what seems a random and arbitrary way - to recreate this sense of cultural rubble”. Eliot purposely used fragments of well known literary works to give the appearance that the culture was in pieces. Eliot style complemented the main point of his poetry, adding to the appearance of a culture in ruins.
In the years following WWI, culture was almost nonexistent in England. People were more focused on getting back to living a normal life than arts or music. Eliot echoes several books of the Bible to describe this culture.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. (19-24)
Eliot is comparing England’s post WWI culture to the cultures described in these sections of the Bible. Eliot is saying that the culture is lifeless, and falling to “darkness.” He is saying that people can’t prosper as long as the culture is this way in the lines, “What branches grow out of this stony rubbish?”(19-20).
One of the reasons that the culture was stagnant is because the populace of England was in a kind of “shock” from the brutality of the First World War. Eliot portrays this in “The Burial of The Dead,”
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.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. (60-65)
World War I took a huge toll on England due to the major loss of life that came from the new and powerful weapons of the War. Cities were destroyed, families were ripped apart, and lives were ruined causing a lot of emotional strife. Each person was individually struggling with the aftermath of the war and it created emptiness in culture.
The lack of culture created an opening for corruption in society. Eliot’s next section calls the populace...