Eliot's Innovative Approach to Form and Theme in The Waste Land

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The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot is considered an open text that could be regarded as a seminal piece of modern literature. By the term modernism, Graff (in Barth [1984] cited in Collins, 1992, 328) suggests that it can be understood to mean a movement that “began as a criticism of nineteenth-century bourgeois culture, a rejection of both its values and its most favored style, realism.” The period of modernity is defined by Best and Kellner (1991, 2) as “a historical periodizing term which refers to the epoch that follows the ‘Middle Ages’ or feudalism.” Their definition potentially covers an era that spans of hundreds of years which is out with the scope of the length of this essay. Instead, this essay aims to focus on the time period associated with ‘Early Modernism’ – the turn of nineteenth century to after the end of the First World War as defined by Butler (1994, xv). The Waste Land was first published in 1922 in The Criterion to a mixed reception. The work forced and challenged the reader to engage in classical literary works (i.e. Greek mythology, Shakespeare, Dante’s Inferno) as well as multiple languages to be able to decipher and conceptualize the ideas that Eliot was trying to express. However, by drawing upon classical literary works and alternative languages, it could be argued the themes used placed the poem among the educated elite of society and excluded the under-educated working class, using language as a method to exclude certain groups. In spite of that, Eliot’s innovative approach to form and theme within the historical period of modernity (as defined above), led to The Waste Land being recognized as a key piece of modernist literature. Modernist art (including poetry) helped to reflect the socio-political c... ... middle of paper ... ... Practical Criticism. London: Edward Arnold Ltd. DAY, G., 1993. The Poets: Georgians, Imagists and Others. In: C. Bloom ed. Literature and Culture in Modern Britain: Volume One: 1900-1929. London: Longman Group Ltd, 30-54. EAGLETON, T., 1996. Literary Theory: An Introduction. 2nd Edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ELIOT, T., 1922. The Waste Land [online]. Available from: http://eliotswasteland.tripod.com/ [Accessed 20 March 2007]. FRYE, N., 1963. T.S. Eliot. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd Ltd. OXFORD UNIVERSITY, 2006. Compact Oxford English Dictionary for Students. Oxford: Oxford University Press. PERKINS, D., 1976. A History of Modern Poetry: From the 1890s to the High Modernist Mode. London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. PROUST, M., 2004. Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1. London: Penguin Classics.

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