The Natural Cycle of Humanity and the Decay of Modern Society in The Wasteland

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Anya Dyurgerova

ENGL 3060

Van Gerven

Paper 1 Re-write

The Natural Cycle and the Decay of Modern Society in The Wasteland

There is no romance, no passion, only a mundane circular sequence of events, “crowds of people, walking round in a ring” (56). In The Wasteland, by T.S. Eliot, the society of the twentieth century is described as detached, dreary and monotonous. It is a collection of dysfunctional relationships and tedious tasks, saturated with an anxiety about death. There is a parallel between the atrophy of society and the land destroyed during the Second World War. To escape a routine and apathetic existence, humans strive for the unattainable, to overcome the limits of humanity. However any departure from the natural cycle of the human world leads to the emergence of the wasteland. Although death haunts the speakers in the poem, it is liberation in comparison to the horror of the wasteland.

There is persistent angst and fear of death in the poem, yet death is everywhere. The many speakers in the poem wish for immortality and to overcome the confines of humanity. In “The Burial of the Dead” the woman, anxious about her fate, goes to see the fortune-teller, Madame Sosostris, who pulls out the “Hanged Man” tarot card and warns her to “fear death by water” (55). The fortune-teller’s words reoccur later in “Death by Water”, a description of the grotesque death of “Phlebas the Phoenician.” His death, symbolized by “the whirlpool,” confirms that there is no regeneration; there is no return from “the whirlpool.” The realization of the fortune implies that fate cannot be defeated. In “What the Thunder Said” Eliot again states that there is no escape from death: “He who was living in now dead/ We who are living are now dying” (328-329). In “The Burial of the Dead” the speaker desires to abandon memories, he describes spring as cruel; it causes sorrowful memories to resurface, while “winter kept us warm/ covering Earth in forgetful snow” (5-6).  What he does not realize is that human existence is a collection of fragments that distinct memories in an ongoing cycle, illustrated in the first stanza of “The Burial of the Dead.” Abandonment of memories leads to a futile existence.

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The wasteland first appears in the second stanza of “The Burial of the Dead” contrasting the first stanza, which is full of life and memories. The narrator is separated from the natural course of existence and is addressing a person of the human world, “Son of man (…) for you only know a heap of broken images” (20-23). The listener is part of the human cycle, he is still part of time: “Your shadow at morning striding behind you/ Or your shadow rising to meet you” (28-29). He does not understand the true fear that comes once time ceases to ...

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