The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

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The Waste Land, a 434-line modernist poem by T.S. Eliot revolves around a world of what seems to be chaotic and dead, and led by a single protagonist. Throughout The Waste Land, there are many uses of symbolism with tarot cards, astrology, and especially the game of chess: The game of chess is such a meaningful symbol throughout the story, that metaphors are used to describe the situation and emotions of the characters throughout the poem by describing them as chess pieces and in check-mate situations. After considering the game of chess, and comparing to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, the reading changes and it makes the reader view the poem as a game of life and death; a poem of survival, where less meaningful people and things must sacrifice themselves to save what matters most to them.

Beginning the second part of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is a Game of Chess. This section focuses on two opposing scenes, one of high society and one of the lower classes. The first half of the section portrays a wealthy, highly groomed woman surrounded by marvelous furnishings. As she waits for a lover, her neurotic thoughts become frantic, and her day culminates for a game of chess. The second part of this section shifts to a bar, where two women discuss a third woman. The bartender constantly calls out, “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME” (the bar is closing). In between the bartender’s announcements, one of the women recounts a conversation with her friend Lil, whose husband has just been discharged from the army. She complains about her lacking of bettering herself; getting false teeth so her husband won’t chase after other women. Lil claims that the cause of her ravaged looks is the medication required for an abortion; seeing she almost died afte...

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... the pawns.

Throughout T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, there are countless acts of symbolism. But there is nothing more symbolic than the game of chess as it is portrayed in its own section of the long poem. The first part of the section describes a king and queen; how their wealth and power is fragile, even when they have each other. The second part of the poem is more metaphorical of the pawns and other pieces (knights, castle, and horsemen). Lil, one of the women, must make a life sacrifice of keeping her money, but losing her husband, the king. Or Lil can save her king if she invests in fixing her teeth. Even the bartender plays a role as the opponent when he hurries’s the girls up to leave, make their next move. Symbolism in the game of chess is a large metaphor throughout the section that changes the reading from a complex story, to an informative game of chess.
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