Who is the speaker in The Waste Land?

There are several speakers in The Waste Land. Due to the alienated, fragmented ethos of the poem, it can be hard to tell them apart. Eliot himself might argue that the speaker is Tiresias.

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There are myriad speakers in T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land. Sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish one from the other. For instance, the “I” who relates the story about sledding with their cousin might not be the same “I” who, one stanza later, promises to reveal “a handful of dust.” Those two “I”s—or speakers—might or might not also be different from the “I” in the next stanza that runs into Stetson.

Considering the difficulty in telling the speakers apart, it might be prudent to describe the speaker in Eliot’s poem as a communal speaker or a cacophony of speakers. The disparate voices come together to create the fractured, atomized spirit of the poem. In other words, it’s a team effort.

Although, if Eliot was able to answer this question himself, he might say that the speaker is Tiresias. In his notes on the poem, Eliot describes Tiresias as “the most important personage in the poem, uniting all of the rest.” Eliot took Tiresias from Greek mythology. Supposedly, Tiresias was a blind seer who changed genders often. It makes sense for a gender-ambiguous person with supernatural insight to serve as the primary speaker for the poem. The absence of a clear gender and the presence of a mystical intuition could give Tiresias the power to render and inhabit the other people of the poem.

Then again, even with Eliot’s explicit elevation of Tiresias, it doesn’t seem accurate to label Tiresias as the sole speaker; in a way, it comes off as rather reductive.

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