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Waste Land Essay: Superficiality In The Waste Land

1653 words - 7 pages

Superficiality in The Waste Land  

The Waste Land is concerned with the 'disillusionment of a generation'. The poem was written in the early 1920's, a time of abject poverty, heightening unemployment and much devastation unresolved from the end of WW1 in 1918. Despite this, or because of it, people made a conscientious effort to enjoy themselves. In doing so they lost their direction, their beliefs and their individuality. They were victims of the class system which maintained a system of privilege, snobbery and distrust. Advances in machinery brought new products onto the market, like cars, but the people were so disillusioned with the social turmoil caused by four years of war, that even the glamour of new possessions could not fill the spiritual and emotional void left by the war. The consciousness of a nation had been battered into submission by the horrors of the first world war that people now were living a shell of what was once life. People went through the motions of life but there was no feeling just a mechanical existence. This kind of surface existence, the inability to see beyond the obvious, is portrayed throughout the Wasteland. The Wasteland is a soulless picture of a world deprived of fertility. Everything has become sterile in this barren landscape, people have nowhere left to look but to the outer shell because the inside is emotionally dead. As a result, the characters of The Wasteland are superficial in every sense of the word. Some are obsessed with appearance. Others are so far detached from the things that make life more than just breathing and looking good, that they perpetuate the destructive cycle that is slowly killing them and their world. They exist without hope, faith and spiritual enlightenment. In every section of The Wasteland, there are examples of both this 'surface' existence and the superficial obsession with appearance.

The Burial of the Dead In the first book of The Wasteland begins with a sense of loss of belonging that comes from superficial living. The fractured nature of the opening lines suggests that snippets of a conversation are being heard. '..with a shower of rain, we stopped in the colonnade.' (pg 23 l8) 'Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt Deutsh.' (pg 23, l12) 'I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter' (pg 23, l18)

This superficial chatter is the talk of a nation without roots, divided up with no sense of belonging to the country where they live. It could be argued that such statements are there to try and re-establish themselves. They engage in inconsequential talk, without true depth, as a means of escaping what has been left to them after the war. Eliot indicates how the characters in The Wasteland have lost their roots and cannot establish their identity. As a result they are alive but they are not living. Eliot emphasises this idea with 'What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish?' (pg 23 line 18). The answer is given...

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