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Is "The Waste Land," in section 1, "The Burial of the Dead" a document of western world?

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chinmoy | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 18, 2009 at 11:34 AM via web

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Is "The Waste Land," in section 1, "The Burial of the Dead" a document of western world?

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:40 AM (Answer #1)

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If it is, it isn't a very flattering depiction of life in the Western hemisphere.  To look into what Eliot was saying, it helps to understand the historical timeframe, and the background that fed into his perspective.  Eliot wrote the poem just after World War I, a war that left many people feeling lost, helpless and highly cynical about life.  Many, many lives were lost, Europe was left in ruins, and many felt that the war was fought in vain, and was futile.  Springing out of that hopelessness was a entire literary and artistic movement that tried to express the meaninglessness of life, and the disillusionment with the technological advances that had supposedly made life better.  So, Eliot was frustrated, and trying to relay how people had lost faith and meaning in life, and how everything around them was a reminder of the death that had occurred, and how rebirth and restarting civilization hadn't yet happened.

Based on that background and context, the western world that Eliot depicts is a conflicted one, filled with barren and empty life rituals, devoid of hope and life.  He expresses a desire to start again (through imagery such as hyacinths, and references to memories from the summertime, but it never quite sticks.  Instead, we have hoards of people trudging off to work each day, where "each man fixed his eyes before his feet," without life or happiness.  He describes a fortunteller predicting death, he references the empty roots and barren trees of the season, cultural buring of dead for good luck, and other such depressing and rather morbid images.  It is entirely a picture of the feeling and mood of the time:  Death was real, it was everywhere, and no one could escape it, and that reality rendered life very difficult to enjoy.  This attitude, reflecting a common one of his time period, was inherent in his description of Western culture at the time.

I hope that helps; good luck!

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