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Analysis of The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot

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If René Descartes’ “Cogito Ergo Sum” embodies the essence of what it means to be a unified and rational Cartesian subject, then T.S. Eliot’s “heap of broken images” eagerly embraces its fragmented and alienated (post)modern counterpart. The message this phrase bears, resonates throughout the entire poem: from its title, “The Waste Land”, to its final mantra “Shantih shantih shantih”. All words, phrases and sentences (or just simply images) which make up this poem seem to, in Levi-Strauss’ words, “be a valeur symbolique zero [and the signifier] can take on any value required ”, meaning that the images Eliot uses do not have one fixed signification and consequently conjure up thought-provoking ideas that need to be studied (qtd. in Derrida 10). One idea critics agree on is, as Paul Muldoon notes in his introduction to “The Waste Land” that “[i]t’s almost impossible to think of a world in which The Waste Land did not exist” (Eliot 2013, pg.5 ), further he proceeds that the poem has been written in an “oppressive climate” (pg.19). However, whereas Barry, in his chapter on Postmodernism, claims that “the modernist laments fragmentation while the postmodernist celebrates it” (81), Muldoon draws the metaphor of “The Waste Land” being like “a variety bill at a music hall, one that is being added to on the fly, and…[may be] read as a vaudeville show”. Notwithstanding that the mood in which this poem is written is certainly a lamenting one, T.S. Eliot does indeed celebrate the possibilities of high modernist art.
In an attempt to analyse this highly modernist poem, this paper starts at one of the beginnings of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”, this is indeed not the only beginning of the text. According to Bennett and Royle, “a literary ...

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...lude, as becomes clear from this analysis of “The Waste Land”, this poem (and perhaps this essay) truly is one massive “heap of broken images”, however, by leaning forward and working while reading, one may say that this poem surely is a lamentation of modern society, however, the way in which the artist expresses this grief is without a doubt a celebration of the art form.

Works Cited

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 2009. Print.
Bennett, Andrew, and Nicholas Royle. An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory. Fourth Edition. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2009. Print.
Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass. London: Routledge, pp 278-294
Eliot, T. S., and Paul Muldoon. The Waste Land. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013. Print.
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