Multiple Narrative Perspectives in "The Waste Land" Analytical Essay

Multiple Narrative Perspectives in "The Waste Land"
An analysis of T.S. Eliot's multiple narrative perspectives in "The Waste Land", and how they convey his theme of Western fragmentation.
# 153824 | 2,664 words | 12 sources | MLA | 2013 | GB
Published on Feb 12, 2014 in Literature (American) , Literature (English) , Literature (Poetry)

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The paper analyzes T.S. Eliot's use of multitudinous narrative perspectives in his poem "The Waste Land", and argues that the dislocated scraps of conversation, opinion, anecdote, and lament are deliberately symptomatic of Eliot's perception of the fragmentation of the fabric of society. The paper discusses the criticisms of "The Waste Land" and contends that they fail to connect with the true meaning of the poem. The paper emphasizes how the apparent incoherence and fragmented structure is not a failing of the poem, but it is its strength in portraying the decay and fragmentation of Western culture.

From the Paper:

"The frequent shift in narrative perspective is also necessary to include a wide variety of viewpoints and contexts in order to reinforce how prevalent the problems pervading the waste land really are. The crises that extend throughout the poem are not merely confined to a certain echelon of society: the narrative perspectives range from a brief anecdote of childhood from Marie, most probably the Countess Marie von Wallersee, to Tiresias, here portrayed as a hermaphrodite, the 'Old man with wrinkled female breasts' (l.19), and many more. In addition, there are the non-human voices which permeate the poem: the nightingale, the thunder and of course, the many voices from the allusions to literature. The stagnation of life and the waste land which they inhabit touches and effects all of them equally, not only the rich or poor, male or female, young or old: the sterility is ubiquitous to all of the voices and their perspectives.
"A further condemnation of The Waste Land is that, although the poem is brimming with various voices, there is no central figure upon which to focus or to guide us through; in fact, there are no real 'characters' in the strict sense at all. This lack of a persona and of persons is - some critics argue - detrimental to the poem. One such critic was Graham Hough, writing in Image and Experience:
"For a poem to exist as a unity more than merely bibliographical, we need the sense of one voice speaking, as in lyric or elegiac verse; or of several voices intelligibly related to each other, as in narrative with dialogue or drama." Numerous critics insist, as Hough does, that a persona is a prerequisite for any discourse or locution and that there is, therefore, an absence of communication not only between the characters in Eliot's poem, but also between the text and the reader. As a result, we are unable to connect with The Waste Land."

Sample of Sources Used:

  • Brown, E. K., 'Mr Eliot and Some Enemies', in University of Toronto Quarterly, viii, (1938) p.81.
  • Eliot, T. S.; Kermode, Frank, ed., The Waste Land and other poems (London: Penguin Books, 2003).
  • Cox, C. B., and Hinchliffe, A. P., eds., Casebook Series: 'The Waste Land', a Selection of Critical Essays (Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1968).
  • Davidson, Harriet, T. S. Eliot and Hermeneutics: Absence and Interpretation in "The Waste Land." (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985).
  • Gardner, Helen, The Art of T. S. Eliot (New York: Dutton, 1959).

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