Comparing Life Without Meaning in Eliot’s The Waste Land and Welles’ Citizen Kane
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Life Without Meaning in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane
It is the foundation of modern civilization that knowledge is better than ignorance, understanding more valuable than confusion, and wisdom more desirable than foolishness. Consequently, people feel that they should be able to understand the meaning of life and, in doing so, know that their lives are not in vain. They want life to be a coherent whole infused with meaning, so that they can know and understand what life is and where they fit in, thereby attaining wisdom. Life, then, is in essence a struggle to find a meaningful framework for the experiences and feelings we have collected. Since art reflects the human state, and we have grown more conscious of this struggle, our art has come to reflect this problem of making a coherent, meaningful whole out of the assorted fragments of life we have collected.
Though this theme of collecting is visible in all media of modern art, it is especially noticeable in literary and film art, in particular in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. These two pieces analyze collecting on two levels: first because they focus on collecting and second because they are collections. However, the division between these levels is somewhat superficial, as both Eliot and Welles blur the lines between the two parallels, making the audience more acutely aware that this art is a picture of all human life. On both levels the artists draw parallels between the works and the audiences’ lives by examining the content, style, and meaning of the collection; that is, what is collected, how it is collected, and what it says, concluding that life is not a coherent whole, but rather “a heap of broken ima...
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...to be. Collecting points out that in the very act of observing the art, we are collecting, as the persona and Kane are, in an attempt to make a coherent and meaningful whole out of our lives, and that we will fail as surely as they do.
1 T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land,” in The Waste Land and Other Poems (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1962).
2 The original title of The Waste Land was a quote from Dickens's novel Our Mutual Friend, "He do the Police in different voices."
3 When I say that the poem lacks a coherent meaning, I mean that it has no more coherent meaning that life itself does.
4 "I am not Russian, I am out of Lithuania, a real German."
5 It is interesting to note the two meanings that this phrase can have. It could mean that the fragments are anchored in his literary tradition, or it could mean that it is set up as a bulwark to prevent his ruin.