What are the most notable uses of fragmentation in T.S Eliot's The Waste Land and why?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Modern culture, as envisaged by T.S. Eliot, is irredeemably fractured. In the years following the First World War, when The Waste Land was written, many of the old certainties had vanished. The rise of mass society, with its extension of the franchise and its democratization of culture had undermined the traditional foundations of Western civilization.

But even Eliot realizes that there is no going back. There is no way in which we can recover the lost classical heritage now being destroyed by the disruptive spirit of the democratic age. The voice of authority has been undermined in politics, society, and culture alike. This explains the fractured nature of the many voices we hear throughout the poem. There is no one voice—nor can there be. There is simply a mixture of voices, each uncomfortably co-existing together in an "unreal city," which could be anywhere. In such a fractured world, it doesn't really matter.

"What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London 
Unreal"

Where once the voice of Western culture was remarkably unified, especially in the Middle Ages, now it has been broken down into a collection of little voices, each occupying their own little world, separate and distinct, without any means of coming together to form a coherent culture.

"Le Prince d'Aquitaine a la tour abolie
These fragments I have shored against my ruins."

"The Prince of Aquitaine in the ruined tower." Eliot is like the prince, standing in a crumbling tower, the tower of Western high culture, casting a mordant eye at the titular waste land around him. That culture is broken; all that can now be done is to collect the various fragments littered throughout the poem and use them to create a testimony to a vanished world. 

 

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You can find fragmentation throughout this poem, because it is both a theme and a technique. Eliot uses fragments because the land he describes is broken (fragmented). Therefore, look for and expect fragmentation throughout the poem.


However, if you want to identify the most notable uses of fragmentation, I'd suggest these:

1. The use of foreign languages. From the opening quotation in Latin and Greek, to bits of German, Sanskrit, etc. This is a world where people don't all speak the same language, and so don't understand each other.

2. Fragmented consciousness. This is both a fragmented identity and a fragmented sense of time. Look at the opening stanza, and you'll see other people's words drifting through the speaker's mind, and the speaker drifting from present to past.

3. Fragmentation of ordering systems. There are bits of different religions and spiritual practices here, like the Tarot. There are also clashing cultures and classes: pop songs blend with references to great works of literature. You can't tell which to listen to, and which to let guide you.

 

lprono eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The entire poem is characterized by the principle of fragmentation with which modernist writers replaced the unified and chronological narratives of the past. To modernist writers and artists, fragmentation is the form of modernity as it reproduces the flux of human life, its fast pace and the multiple standpoints through which reality can be interpreted. Therefore, Eliot put together a long sequence of sketches which are apparently unrelated as far as time, setting and content are concerned. All the sections of the poem are characterized by abrupt transitions. In the first, for example, there are continuous geographical and seasonal shifts. In the third, we move from the contemporary urban setting of the "unreal city" to the ancient prophet Tiresias and then back again to the modern urban setting of London. Images of the city alternate with failed relationships through history.

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The Waste Land

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