Discuss The Waste Land, by T S Eliot, as a poem about twentieth-century concerns.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

T S Eliot makes no attempt to simplify his poetry and expects the reader to approach it with an open mind. The Waste Land is typical of his style and his intention to introduce the reader to a reality that reflects the turmoil after World War I. A sense of despair and disillusionment pervades The Waste Land as Eliot wants to ensure that the reader is aware of the reality of life in the twentieth century.

Water is the source of life and  where there is “no sound of water” there can be no future. Basic human functions and the emergence of gender equality also feature heavily as men and women find no pleasure in sexual activity. It is important to note how this fact transcends the class system - also a very prominent feature of the early twentieth century. Rich and poor are affected by this morally baseless sex. Meaningful encounters are scarce and life has become a series of "automatic" actions. The lack of maternal instinct is stark as one woman is "Hardly aware of her departed lover” and another woman would rather have abortions - strictly forbidden - because she  “nearly died of young George.” To treat the creation of life so flippantly is a warning that the masses, after World War I are disenchanted and defeated.   

Although ultimately people are striving to overcome their negativity, they are not strong enough to do so and any attempt at revealing hope and the restorative qualities contrary to the disillusionment are disregarded as "I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing.” Even the redeeming concept of the resurrection of Christ is somehow minimized because, for all the hope it brings, it also highlights desperation and betrayal. Christ's own followers failed to recognize him after the Resurrection so, whilst Christ can provide the ultimate saving grace, so too can disillusionment creep up and envelop the reader.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial