Eliot's The Waste Land and Maddy's No Past, No Present, No Future

Eliot's The Waste Land and Maddy's No Past, No Present, No Future

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T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" and Yulisa Amadu Maddy's "No Past, No Present, No Future"



Time and circumstance change everything. When we are young, the world is fresh, exciting, and pure. As people age, we begin to realize how corrupt the world is. Our old center, one based on trust, breaks down. Everyone in the world is looking out for their personal well-being, not the well-being of others. With this knowledge, people’s perspectives change. Rather than trusting every thing, we question the meaning and motive behind it. Our once happy, innocent world is now polluted and depressing. All things fall apart because the center cannot hold. It must change to accommodate life’s changes.

T.S. Eliot and Yulisa Amadu Maddy are two authors who deal with this theory in their writings. Eliot published "The Waste Land" shortly after World War I. The horrific war drastically changed the mentality of the world. Thousands died. The living were left with endless questions: Why did so many die? Did the life of the deceased have any meaning? What is the meaning of any persons life? These questions prove that the center of society is changing. Not long before this period, people were content. They lived their lives day to day without questioning their actions. Now, they must second-guess everything, not just daily choices, but the entire reason that they must make such choices. The war to end all wars did not end the internal battles of it’s survivors. They are confused and helpless in the wasteland left by destruction.

In No Past, No Present, No Future, Maddy proves it does not take a war for things to fall apart. His story is of three men who make some life changing mistakes. These circumstances are not as globally traumatic as a war. Still, they cause each character to question his every action, just as the war caused society to question every action. Their centers change as their ways of thinking change. Each person suffers through their own internal battles. Things begin to fall to pieces while their centers transform.

Sex is the catalyst for all destruction. As children, we are oblivious to it. Our bodies have not reached full maturity. Therefore, we have no desire for sexual indulgence or experimentation. The Thrills of prepubescent life come from exploring surroundings. We play and develop our personalities and imaginations. The entire time, we are learning and growing physically and intellectually.

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Sexual knowledge and desire are more prevalent with age. Through our childhood exploration we learn bits and pieces about adult life. With bodies near full maturity, we become sexual time bombs anxiously waiting to explode. Our centers are changing because of the new knowledge, curiosity, and desire.

Adolescence is not the only time in life where centers change. Many different life events, traumatic or glorious, cause a single person’s center to change many times throughout his or her life. A victory could boost ego and optimism. Similarly, rejection could cause depression. It is quite common for a person to approach life differently after the death of a close friend or relative. All situations cause a change in the priorities of the individual, a change in his or her center. It is in the changing process that things seem to fall apart.

During change, a person’s center is unstable. He or she questions the foundation of his or her morals, and adjusts it. If the center is unstable, the person is unstable because he or she does not know their own cornerstones. They are unable to think clearly or act rationally, causing them to make mistakes. Society gives these phases names such as "crazy youth" or "mid-life crisis." Everyone experiences them, and every person’s life seems like a never-ending pit of despair at some point.

If a person survives adolescent sexual curiosity without his or her world completely shattering, sex becomes a large part of the center. Human bodies are designed for sexual activity. It maintains physical health, and is necessary for survival of the species. The ability to perform sexually is a sign of a successful body. When the body is at full maturity, sex is necessary. Without it, the body would quickly deteriorate.

"The Waste Land" Has been directly compared to The Fisher King. In this story, the kingdom is falling because of the King’s infertility. "The Waste Land" is full of miserable characters, all jaded by shallow sexual encounters and infertility. One example of such events is the pub scene. In this scene, two lower-class women are discussing their friend. The friend has given birth to five children and nearly died of the last. She is now prematurely old in appearance and undesirable to her husband because of some medications she took to abort her sixth child.

This woman’s world is falling apart. If she continues to take the medication, she will be infertile. Her purpose as a woman will be void. She will remain undesirable to her husband, and he will seek satisfaction from another woman. She may as well be dead. If she stops the medication, she will be sexually desirable and fertile, once again giving reason to live. Another pregnancy will kill her though. She has given life to five people meaning her life has been successful. However, because she is incapable of this task anymore, she is considered useless. Her body is a barren wasteland. The scene closes in a style mimicking Ophelia’s suicide speech. We assume that the woman chooses the same destiny after realizing her hopelessness.

Sex is the source of destruction in No Past, No Present, No Future as well. Although there are many circumstantial obstacles for the characters to overcome, one of the largest is the first sexual intercourse Joe Bengoh experiences. His friend Ade John taking advantage of the same young woman soon follows Joe Bengoh’s encounter. These events deeply affect Joe Bengoh who is completely traumatized. He is turned off by women and changes to a homosexual life from that point on. The primary purpose for sexual activity is reproduction. A relationship between two people of the same sex is automatically infertile. Instinctively, this relationship is unsuccessful. The body has failed to achieve its duty, and leaves the soul empty. The fact that Joe Bengoh was not initially this way, but rather forced into this lifestyle, only makes the void larger. His homosexuality will be the cause of much more grief in his future.

Ade John’s life falls apart from this when the young woman commits suicide and leaves a note mentioning Ade John. His center was always himself. Suddenly, the center is forced to change. Refusing to do so, Ade John has much more suffering in his life then necessary.

In both "The Wasteland" and No Past, No Present, No Future, the characters’ world falls apart because of unfortunate sexual encounters. Yet sex is the center of adult life. It is physically pleasing, deepens the relationship with a loved one, and marks the beginning of new life. We can assume that the pain of the characters is unbearable. Their center is the cause of their pain. The inability to function normally makes each character unsuccessful. Their lives are worthless.

The center cannot hold because life is forever grinding around it. If the center did not change to adapt to life, it would end. This process makes it seem as though things are falling apart. Nevertheless, it is a survival method to ensure that things stay together as long as possible. Life must go on. The center must change.

Works Consulted

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

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