T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and Morality

T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and Morality

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T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and Morality


T.S. Eliot and Yulisa Amadu Maddy both address the topics of fear of death and then correlative love of life, but from entirely different points of view. T.S. Eliot wrote during a time when people were questioning relativity, especially moral relativity and it's effect on life after death. Maddy wrote about young boys who were going through that time in a teenager's life when they realize that they will die someday. Thus, teenagers begin to acknowledge death while embarking on their search for love and the meaning of life.

During the time period that Eliot wrote "The Waste Land" people were questioning relativity. If time is relative then are not all things relative, including morals? People may have thought that they were living a moral life, but what was that moral life relative to? This lead me to the assumption that people were more fearful of life after death because the had no way to really know how they measured up morally to the standards of God.

Eliot used these questions and fears in his poem, "The Waste Land." He displays the feelings of love for life as well as fear of death. Eliot writes of a "dead tree that can give no shelter," and a "dry stone no sound of water." Water symbolizes life and the dry stone implies the lack there of. The tree is dead and thus no shelter from the elements. Eliot continues, "There is shadow under this red rock,/ (Come in under the shadow of this red rock). Shadows imply darkness, death, and sinister dealings . Then Eliot writes, "And I will show you something different from either/ Your shadow at morning striding behind you/ Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;/ I will show you fear in a handful of dust." These are signs pointing to death. Eliot claims he will show you something different than the shadows you see in the morning and at night. The opposite of having a shadow would be not having a shadow, and if someone, other than Peter Pan, ceases to have a shadow then they obviously have ceased to have an earthly existence. The lack of water, a barren tree, the loss of shadows, and finally what I believe to be a Biblical allusion, "I will show you fear in a handful of dust." There is mention in the Bible about originating from ashes and dust and returning to ashes and dust as well.

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Therefore in this sense dust refers to the death of the earthly body, and the fear of death put blatantly before the reader in a handful of dust.

The correlative love of life is found in the same stanza as fear of death is. When Eliot writes about seeing "hyacinth girl" and being so in love that he did not know if he was alive or dead, but was speechless he was, "Looking into the heart of light, the silence." This is an intense love that I interpret this to be more for the love of life than for love of the girl. The interest in the girl simply allows him to see the beauty of life.

In my opinion, the sensation that stands out in Maddy's book is the love of life. The book is centered around three teenage boys growing up. Innocent love of life is most evident in youth as they grow up. These "Brothers Three" are just beginning to learn about death and acknowledging that it is possible, but like most teens they have yet to really develop a fear of death. As teenagers death may loom in the back of their minds, but in the forefront of their minds they still artificially believe that they are invincible. Our "Brothers Three," Joe, Ade, and Santigie, are centered on how much money they can make, and on moving on towards their futures, and lastly on women and sex.

For example, Joe's parents die in the very beginning of the story. However, Joe shows no signs of having a fear of death afterwards, but is struck with thoughts of survival and how to better his life now that he doesn't have drunken parents to inhibit him. Joe moves on to meet his "brothers" and start his life and education at the mission. Here Joe finds an artificial love of life in alcohol and prostitutes.

The next death in the story is that of Mary, a young girl who commits suicide because she is pregnant. It is difficult to decipher whether or not Joe and Ade raped Mary because she laid down willingly, but the fact that she committed suicide because she was pregnant with one of their babies would cause one to think that Mary may have considered herself raped. Nonetheless, while this death continues to effect Joe throughout the rest of his life he still does not gain a noticeable fear of death. On the other hand Joe does not have any noticeable love for life either, and in fact Joe seems to lose even his artificial love for life after Mary's death.

Lastly, Santigie's sickly father finally passes away. Whereas Santigie should have replaced his father and become chief of their tribe his uncle is chosen instead. Having lost his father and his position as chief of his tribe Santigie becomes angry and loses his artificial love for life.

Ade was blamed with impregnating Mary and he was pulled out of school by his parents. Ade, not being able to finish his education is forced to go to work to support himself. However, Ade continues to maintain his supposed love for life as he works cheating people and making plans for his move to England so that he can finish his education, make money, and return to his homeland, Bauya to show off.

When all three "brothers" eventually make it to England their lives begin to separate. Ade tries to find his love for life in money and white women, but fails in the end. Santigie fails in passing his exams and basically gives up and begins to wander through life. Joe even tries to commit suicide at one point, but he still seems to lack a real fear of death. However, Joe is the only one who begins to love his life. Joe finds his love for life through his lover, his freedom, and his current situations, but the sad part is that Joe comes to the realization that he has found love for life after he has purposely ruined the life of one of his "brothers."

While the "Brothers Three" are probably too young to come to terms with any real fear of death those people living during the time of T.S. Eliot did fear death and thus their love for life was enriched. Because our "Brothers Three" never really found that fear of death they never found that true correlating love of life either.



Works Consulted

Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land, Prufrock and Other Poems. New York: Dover, 1998. ISBN:
0486400611.

Maddy, Yulisa Amadu. No Past No Present No Future. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann-
Reed, 1996. ISBN: 0435905228.
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