The waste land

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THE WASTE LAND by Thomas Stearns Eliot

1. Number of sections name them and give a brief summary of the content:  There are five sections in this poem:

    • In part I, The Burial of the Dead, Eliot transmits a sense of apprehension and incomprehension on various characters presented in different situations. The lack of understanding is not helped by Madame Sosostris, a fortune-teller, whose enigmatic pronouncements only make sense layer in the poem. The city, in particular London, is a grim place of people unable to live fully or see a way out of their deadness.
    • In part II, A Game of Chess, there are two scenes showing the essential desolation of people’s lives. The first scene presents a much decorated room in which there is a rich lady whose constant questions express her anxiety and lack of control. The second scene is set in a London pub where two women discuss the problem in which the rich woman finds herself.
    • In part III, The Fire Sermon, the theme of sexual dissatisfaction is explored. Eliot shows how man’s aspirations to a higher and more spiritual mode of living are constantly frustrated by his subservience to his bodily appetites and his self-centredness.
    • In part IV, Death by Water, a drowned merchant’s body decomposes in the sea. He seems to have achieved nothing.
    • In part V, What the Thunder said, the part begins with a description of the death of Jesus and goes on relating an exhausting journey through the desert to an empty chapel. In the final section of the poem the arrival of rain is intimated and the voice of the thunder offers three words of advice: give, sympathise and control.

2. Why is it considered a modernist poem? It is considered a modernist poem because of the use of several techniques and ways of expression such as: symbolism, the use of nature, the indeterminacy in the theme and structure of the poem, the use of the dramatic monologue, the break in the traditional poetic perspective and the use of cubism.

 3. What about its symbolism? Give examples.

Broken images (line 22) referring to when God tells Ezekiel that he will break the idols (images) erected by the Israelites to false Gods.

The Hanged man (line 55) as a symbol of the death (in the tarot cards the Hanged Man represents death).

A Handful of Dust (line 30) referring to fear and to the fact that, in biblical terms, man’s body comes from the dust and returns to dust.

 4. Explain the dramatic devices used in the structure of the poem. The dramatic device used by T. S. Eliot in this poem is the dramatic monologue where there are several changes of voice in which a character may have different identities, a character as protagonist and spectator at the same time, at the same time human and mythical, judge and critic.

 5. Meaning and examples of the cinematic technique. This cinematic technique is used by the modernist writers to help the reader’s understanding of the poem by means of the use of images upon images (broken images) and juxtaposed images without linking, creating a sensation of movement, like in films.

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