The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot: The Meaning and the Meanings Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Apr 25th, 2019

The Waste Land is one of the most known works written by T. S. Eliot at the beginning of the 1900s. This revolutionary modernist poem made T. S. Eliot a recognizable poet and writer. Modernism was considered to be one of the rejections against the already existed traditional literature norms of the 19th century.

Writers did not find enough powers to create something new and not ordinary to the settled norms. Eliot made a wonderful attempt to amaze the reader, and he did it really great. This modernist poem consists of 5 parts, each of them introduces a captivating story and concentrates on the things, which play a crucial role in the life of each person. The Burial of the Dead, A Game of Chess, The Fire Sermon, Death by Water, and What the Thunder Said are the five sections of this 434-line poem.

The meaning of the title and of the poem itself is one of the most captivating issues, which have to be analyzed in this work: Eliot tries to unite past, present, and future into one whole, represent his vision of the current things from women’s perspective, and introduce his consciousness in the form of the journey that aims to underline how barren the modern world is.

Modernism is one of the peculiar features of the 19th century: some writers preferred to abandon current traditions and styles of writing in order to represent the society by means of new progressive forms and underline the world’s cynicism and desire to achieve more by means of the others. The Waste Land demonstrates the variety of contradictory points of view and examples of allusions, which were the major characteristics of breaking down the norms of Victorian and Romantic literature.

Eliot’s first publishing caused numerous misunderstandings, critique, and admiration: people could not comprehend how the author may present such a great number of nontraditional techniques within one poem. The Waste Land seemed to present a little bit of everything: the beginning that symbolizes the death, life that may be compared to the game of chess, burning desire that makes our life fulfill, and other important for this life issues.

It was crucially important to pick out the most considerable points from the modern world and introduce them in the poem. “London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down” (Eliot, 1922) is the 426th line of The Waste Land and serves a good example of the author’s intention to represent the modern world in literature with the help of innovative techniques, which have not been used before.

With the help of a thorough work of critics, it turns out to be a bit easier to determine the very meaning of the whole work. Let us analyze this poem as one of the reflections that demonstrates Elliot’s disappointment of the situation that was inherent to post-World War I Europe. The author uses the Holy Grail legend in order to underline how despairing and lost the modern world was. People wanted to find something new and used any possible way to achieve their purposes. Holy Grail is a myth that symbolized a cup with miraculous powers.

The use of this symbol underlines that people were eager to find more powers to continue living and a miracle was the only thing that could help. The author wants to underline the inability of the modern nation to believe in the things, which provide people with meaning of this life and the energy to develop and create.

People are bored with the events, which happen to them, they do not want to search for any meaning in their lives – these very issues oppress the writer, and he wants to help them comprehend this truth and find the necessary way out of such decay. “The modern wastelander is spiritually barren to such an extent that even if he gets the chance of spiritual rebirth he is unable to avail it.” (Iftikhar, 2003)

Of course, it is necessary to admit that The Waste Land is the story about women, the women, who symbolize nature and all the memories, inherent to people.

There are several images of women, who are connected by one and the same thing – sadness. Marie is the first woman, whose depression is caused by cruel April. She misses all the warmth of winter: “Winter kept us warm, covering/ Earth in forgetful snow, feeding/ A little life with dried tubers.” (Eliot, 1922) Lil, the second woman, hears some noises and feels nervous because of them. She is unhappy with such a possibility to concentrate on different noises, they make her a bit angry, confused, and sad. “What is that noise? / The wind under the door./ What is that noise now? What is the wind doing? / Nothing, again nothing.” (Eliot, 1922)

As far as I am concerned, this woman is going to die soon: she does not want to take care of herself, her appearance means nothing to her, and she wants to stay alone for some period of time. One more woman, who attracts my attention, does not have a name. She is not satisfied with her life either, however, she continues living and listening to all the order of a man.

“She turns and looks a moment in the glass,

Hardly aware of her departed lover;

Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:

‘Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.’

When lovely woman stoops to folly and

Paces about her room again, alone,

She smoothes her hair with automatic hand,

And puts a record on the gramophone” (Eliot, 1922)

If we compared the image of this woman to those of our times, it is quite possible to find out a certain number of similarities. Lots of women prefer to live according to some order: they keep house, please their men, bring up children, work. Everything is performed ‘with automatic hand’.

Of course, our modern world has been changed, but still, certain features remain the same, and this work helps to analyze the points, people have to concentrate once again. This is why the meaning of this poem lies in the fact that people have to notice their mistakes and the mistakes of other people not only to underline own weakness, but in order to find more strengths, improve this life, and create safer future.

Each of these women has her own problems and discontents. They miss the things, which they cannot get back, and stay indifferent to the things around them. There are lots of different things, which make all these women sad, and it could be that these very women could have nothing in common. However, their sadness and passivity unite them, and this unity does not seem like good one.

Everything in the poem turns out to be sad or dead. People, women in particular, do not want to take any measures in order to change their lives for better. Why did the author choose women as the main characters of his poem? Women are those, who give birth to new lives in this world.

Women are those, who bring up children and learn them how to live in this world. Women are those, who keep houses and make the lives of their men complete. The role of women is crucial indeed, this is probably why Eliot concentrates on them more and introduces his thoughts through the women’s points of view.

Each chapter in this poem is one more journey, which Eliot invites the reader to visit. He is a sophisticated guide, who knows where to stop and explain the details. “The Waste Land is Eliot’s greatest dramatic work. Its voices make a relished cacophony – completing, dominating, jostling, assertive, irrefutable, gone.” (Raine, 2006)

All these adjectives describe Eliot’s poem as it is. His vision of the modern world, his courage to describe the situation as it is, without any decorations, and his powerful words – all this make The Waste Land one of the most readable and influential works of the 19th century.

People should have a chance to look at their mistakes in order to comprehend them and change their lives. People cannot always live properly: something they have to learn, sometime they have to mistaken, someone should disappoint them. This world is not perfect, and the meaning of this work is to demonstrate what makes our world worse and help the readers to find the necessary way for self-improvement.

Reference List

Eliot, T. S. (1922).The Waste Land. Retrieved from <>

Iftikhar, N. (2003). A Journey through ‘The Wasteland’: A Masterpiece of T.S Eliot. Journal of Research (Faculty of Languages & Islamic Studies), 3, 57-65.

Raine, C. (2006). T. S. Eliot. Oxford University Press US.

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