Student Question

What are the main modernist features in T.S Eliot's The Waste Land and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway?

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When Woolf writes that “All human relations have shifted,” she is making the point that Modernism involves a transformation or change from what was originally held and in what believes were placed.  Eliot’s work represents this in a couple of ways.  The first would be that the style of the work itself is indicative of a Modernist period where “all… have shifted.”  The style of narration and the work itself “shifts” what literature is and what it can be viewed as.  There can be a case made that the work is poem, treatise, philosophical musing, and cultural analysis all in one.  This represents Modernism because Eliot does not render a piece that is standard or traditional.  At the same time, the lack of totality and consensus that Eliot’s work renders is also indicative of Modernism, a period that espoused a total disbelief in structures and principles that previously indicated a sense of coherence and identity.  In much the same way, Woolf’s writing accomplishes this idea of a fragmented view of reality.  The title character of her work upholds the façade of Victorian society, yet her internal discussions and beliefs reflect a complete disenchantment with both her world and her place within it.  To this end, Woolf’s work also represents a sense of loss and betrayal felt in that Clarissa is incapable of feeling a sense of certainty and absolutism in the world that is supposed to give a woman meaning.  At the same time, this reflects a very questioning in the social structure that defines women.  Woolf’s work raises significant questions to the social order that relegates women to a specific role, defining who they are and what they are supposed to be.  There is significant doubt raised to this construction, and this is representative of both Modernism and the “shift” in thought that is a part of the movement.

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