The Waste Land Questions and Answers
by T. S. Eliot

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Why did Eliot use the title "wasteland?"

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Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The title comes from the myth in Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance. In this myth, the genitals of the Fisher King are wounded. This affects his fertility and then affects the kingdom, which becomes a wasteland. The kingdom can not regenerate itself. It is static and infertile. From Ritual to Romance is an examination of the lore of the quest for the Holy Grail. So, the title also refers to the archetypal myth that a hero must go on a quest to rescue the kingdom. Elliot incorporated different languages as well as different religions, myths and symbols. This myth of the quest is common to many cultures and this was his point. Christ, King Arthur, Mohammed all go on quests to inspire, preserve or resurrect their kingdom.

The waste land itself symbolizes the post-World War I era. Elliot was commenting on moral and physical decay. The possibility of restoration refers to Eliot’s glimmer of hope for his era, but also the hope of the Fisher King in Weston’s From Ritual to Romance.

Using intertextuality and all these different cultural and religious myths, Eliot illustrates that restoration will occur through our common humanity. This is in response to that moral decay he experienced in the wake of World War I.

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dixon349 | Student

Consider this:

T. S. Eliot was inspired to use the title, The Waste Land by a book that he had read on the Legend of the Holy Grail. This can be found in the notes that Eliot wrote to accompany his poem: “Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston's book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance (Macmillan). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston's book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble.”