"Different voices and shifting points merge together to give a kind of unity to Eliot's 'The Waste Land'." Discuss.
It is important to realise the way in which this powerful work came to define Modernism as a literary movement. Indeed, some critics argue that stylistically it seeks to include all of the elements that are now associated with Modernism, such as odd stanza lengths, free verse, random overheard dialogue and phrases from other languages, to name but a few. However, in spite of this rather overtly chaotic style, the thematic unity of the poem is supported through these differing voices and shifting points to reinforce the rather grim and bleak vision of life that Eliot presents: a life of spiritual dryness and where there is no hope of regeneration and where there is no meaning in the daily activities of life.
Note how Part I introduces Madame Sosostris, "famous clairvoyante," whose cards reveal this bleak vision, from the "drowned Phoenician Sailor" to "Belladonna." The Phoenician Sailor is shown to connect to Part IV of the poem and the characters of Phlebas the Phoenician and Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant, but such a reading is thematically linked with the frivolous and meaningless conversations overheard in the pub at the end of Part II, where the repeated refrain of "HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME" serves as an almost Beckettian refrain to highlight the meaninglessness of the lives of those who are being overheard. Note the following example of one of these conversations:
I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She's had five already, and nearly died of young George.)
This refers to an abortion. In this case the vacuous conversations overheard directly relate to the rather grim predictions of Madame Sosostris. All of the disparate voices and shifting perspectives in this poem, although they bear little apparent relation to each other, directly reinforce the sense of meaninglessness and dry spirituality that Eliot felt pervaded the context in which he was writing.