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Essay about Contrasting of Past with Present in Waste Land

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Contrast of Past with Present in The Waste Land

 
   Eliot contrasts the past with the present in several ways throughout his poem, The Waste Land. The simplest of these is the simple juxtaposition of one or more descriptions of the present immediately before or after one or more descriptions of the past. The most obvious of these is section two, in which two descriptions of the present (lines 111-139 and 140-172) immediately follow a description of the past (lines 77-110). In this case, the juxtaposition is used to hold the modern attitude toward sex and love next to an attitude from the past. In the first part of section two, the description opens with a reference to the description of Antony and Cleopatra's first meeting in Shakespeare's play Antony and Cleopatra, and Eliot's footnote explicitly refers the reader to that passage. The love and passion of Antony and Cleopatra was an event that changed the future of the Roman Empire and, through that, influenced the direction of the Western world. This passage is rich and seductive in detail, controlled in tone, and cohesive in structure.

 

In contrast, the passage immediately following can be seen as a conversation between Eliot and his wife, Vivian, who slowly went insane throughout the course of their marriage. Unlike the passion of Antony and Cleopatra, Eliot's love for Vivian was hopeless and without power. This middle passage of section two is Spartan in detail, distressed in tone, and disjointed in structure.

 

The last part of section two, which also contrasts with the first section, consists of what may be an overheard conversation in a pub. Two speakers discuss a conversation that one of them previously had, in which this speaker remonstrates anot...


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...This failure of the present is frequently, but not always, sexual in nature.

 

Works Cited and Consulted:

Abrams, M.H., et al. Footnotes to "The Waste Land" in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume 2. General Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.

Abrams, M.H., et al. Introduction to "The Waste Land" in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume 2. General Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns. Footnotes to "The Waste Land" in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume 2. General Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns. "The Waste Land" in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Sixth Edition, Volume 2. General Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.

 


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