T.S. Eliot’s "The Waste Land" - The Most Influential Work in Modern Literature
T.S. Eliot’s "The Waste Land" is considered by many to be the most influential work in modern literature. First published in 1922, it captures the feelings and sentiments of modern culture after World War I. Line thirty of "The Waste Land," "I will show you fear in a handful of dust," is often viewed as a symbol of mankind’s fear of death and resulting love of life. Eliot’s masterpiece—with its revolutionary ideas—inspired writers of his era, and it continues to affect writers even today.
In the first two lines of "The Waste Land," Eliot says, "April is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land" (l. 1-2). Eliot shows the connection between death (emptiness) and life (fulfillment). Flowers and trees awaken and grow after the long, harsh winter months. The plants receive nutrients—and life—from the decayed remains of past vegetation. Yulisa Maddy’s No Past No Present No Future begins with the same ideas of new life beginning out of death. Joe Bengoh, after witnessing the fire that destroys his house, mumbles, "My parents dead?" (3). His callous words hardly conceal his true feelings of contempt for his parents. Joe’s suppressed jubilation is apparent in his next few thoughts. He thinks that, after the tragic death of his parents, Father O’Don will surely accept him at the mission house. In an attempt to make himself look troubled and distraught, Joe sticks his finger into his mouth and then rubs his eyes. Joe "kept on doing this until his eyes went red and felt as if he had been crying" (6). Joe ends up being accepted to the mission house, and he becomes inseparable from his new friends, Ade John and Santigie Bombolai. Joe’s new, positive outlook on life is the direct result of his own parents’ deaths. He feels no sorrow, no remorse; he appreciates life for—possibly—the first time in his life.
Not everyone appreciates life after suffering the death of someone close to him. After the death of Mary, Ade is forced to leave the mission. A few weeks later, Santigie must also return home after the death of his father, Chief Bombolai. The "Brothers Three," seemingly separated forever, are not appreciating life more than they did before. Each boy is dead to the others; none of them believe they will ever see each other again. After several months, however, the "Brothers Three" are reunited. They promise to always stay together, and each boy has an optimistic outlook on life again.
Eliot’s own pessimism toward life amid the destruction of World War I is evident throughout most of the poem. He uses many dark images to suggest death and brokenness, but Eliot contrasts those depictions with pictures of life and energy. In the second stanza of section one, Eliot vividly describes a desert wasteland. A few lines later in the same stanza, he depicts a young "hyacinth girl" (l. 37) and a lush garden full of flowers. These two contrasting images of life and death are...