The Waste Land is concerned with the 'disillusionment of a generation'. The poem was written in the early 1920's, a time of abject poverty, heightening unemployment and much devastation unresolved from the end of WW1 in 1918. Despite this, or because of it, people made a conscientious effort to enjoy themselves. In doing so they lost their direction, their beliefs and their individuality. They were victims of the class system which maintained a system of privilege, snobbery and distrust. Advances in machinery brought new products onto the market, like cars, but the people were so disillusioned with the social turmoil caused by four years of war, that even the glamour of new possessions could not fill the spiritual and emotional void left by the war. The consciousness of a nation had been battered into submission by the horrors of the first world war that people now were living a shell of what was once life. People went through the motions of life but there was no feeling just a mechanical existence. This kind of surface existence, the inability to see beyond the obvious, is portrayed throughout the Wasteland. The Wasteland is a soulless picture of a world deprived of fertility. Everything has become sterile in this barren landscape, people have nowhere left to look but to the outer shell because the inside is emotionally dead. As a result, the characters of The Wasteland are superficial in every sense of the word. Some are obsessed with appearance. Others are so far detached from the things that make life more than just breathing and looking good, that they perpetuate the destructive cycle that is slowly killing them and their world. They exist without hope, faith and spiritual enlightenme...
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...t could bring life to the Wasteland, then there would be hope. Water of course becomes symbolic of faith. Eliot's message is if we had faith, then the world would begin to take root again. Eliot suggests that our superficiality is replaced by 'Datta... Dayadhvam..Dumyata' 'give, sympathise, control'. Our superficial nature has left us in an uncontrollable, unsympathetic, mean wasteland.
In short, superficiality is portrayed throughout The Wasteland. Those who inhabit the land exist without faith and reject enlightenment because they are too concerned with appearances, money and other such inconsequential matters that they have lost the ability to recognize what is needed to make life better. 'Do You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember Nothing?
Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land and Other Poems. Harcourt Brace & Company: New York, 1958.
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