Explain how Eliot uses language and imagery to suggest the kind of neighborhood he is describing in his poem "The Winter Evening Settles Down."

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In T.S. Eliot's "The Winter Evening Settles Down," Eliot describes a rather run-down, decrepit part of town.  He does so concisely and descriptively through imagery and word choices.  Imagery is when you use language to paint a picture using the five senses--taste, touch, sight, sound and smell.  There is quite a bit of imagery in Eliot's poem, and all of it helps the reader to feel like they are actually there, in the neighborhood that he describes, seeing and feeling what he does.  For example, we get smells:  "smell of steaks in passageways," and "burnt-out ends of smoky days."  These smells help us to picture a run-down part of town where meat and potatoes are common fare amongst a working class; there are fires lit to keep homes warm, and the smoke from the fires fogs the neighborhood and lends a musty smell to the area.  We get sights:  "grimy scraps of withered leaves," and "newspapers from vacant lots."  Notice how the leaves are grimy, and just scraps.  This helps us to understand that it is not the countryside, because the leaves are torn apart, not full and fresh, and, they are dirty from their long journey into town. So, it's a dirty, old, inner city where living, fresh things like leaves don't thrive.  Also, there are vacant lots; we get a sense of abandoned and demolished areas, homes that are so run-down that they are not livable.  So, imagery helps us to picture the decrepit part of town that he is describing.

Also take a look at key word choices.  The rain "beats" down on the city; this indicates a tired, brutal way of living, a merciless part of town where living is hard.  The blinds are "broken," which indicates a poor part of town, where upkeep is too expensive to undertake.  "Empty pots" indicates people who are too tired to remove and clean pots after the plants have died; they are exhausted and drained.  All of these descriptions seem to indicate the misery of a working life, the exhaustion and weariness of industrial living, and a very run-down and decrepit part of town.  Eliot, a modernist writer, often focused on the dreary nature of factory work and the industrial age, and this poem reflects that well.  I hope that helped; good luck.