Gender and Sexuality in The Waste Land
In a society obsessed with materialism, nihilism, and indulgences, The Waste Land provides a counter to this cultural degeneration. Whether it is post World War I or the modern era, Eliot manages to exploit the cultural crisis through allusions of a deteriorated wasteland and the characters that inhabit it. Using an obscure and ambiguous style, Eliot depicts the lack of spirituality and morals, and reiterates the need for reform through faith and responsibility. Throughout The Waste Land, Eliot portrays numerous occasions of sexuality and gender roles to illustrate fertility, yet at the same time, ironically depict impotency. With scenes abruptly ...view middle of the document...
The males and females in The Waste Land merge into Tiresias thus causing him to be â€œthe most important personage, uniting all the rest.â€ In a sense I feel that Eliot is trying to get the reader to see through his/her eyes. Although blind, and physically abnormal, he/she is ironically the most sensible, regarding the â€œsubstanceâ€ rather than just the act. For instance, in the sex scene between the typist and carbuncular clerk, he sees the aridity and boredom of the meaningless act rather than the act itself. Eliot seems to be conveying the fact that society should view the â€œsubstanceâ€ like Tiresias and look beyond the act in order to bring about reform.
Eliot wrote The Waste Land to convey the social and spiritual emptiness of post World War I. The aftermath of World War I was that of grandiose and traumatic proportions. Many nations lost territories, influenza broke out, and social trauma was greater than ever. With Nihilism growing ever so popular and capitalism and imperialism coming to an end, a sense of disillusionment swept Europe. Not to mention Europe became obsessed with materialism, novelty, and instant satisfaction. Cultural heritage was also lost through the lack of faith and â€œsubstanceâ€. Through the eyes of Tiresias, the reader is divulged into this post World War I society, an arid wasteland, ravaged by war and corrupted by materialism.
The poem begins with an epigraph depicting Cumaean Sibyl, an immortal prophetess, whom still physically ages as the years go on. Sibyl is asked what she wants, in which she replies after foreseeing the future, â€œI want to dieâ€. This immediately sets the mood of desolation and hopelessness for the rest of the poem. Eliot uses this opening epigraph to convey his pessimism on the post World War I era. Like Sibyl, he lives in a decaying culture that refuses to die out or reform, causing reminiscent memories of prosperous times prior to the war.
In the first section of the poem, â€˜The Burial of the Deadâ€™, the reader is introduced to the Fisher King, one of Madame Sosotrisâ€™ cards. According to Arthurian Legend, â€œThe man with three stavesâ€ has known to be the cause of the wasteland due to his injury on his groin. His impotence affects the fertility of his kingdom thus reducing it to a barren state. Only the Quester for the Holy Grail can relieve this disease by successfully answering ritual questions. The Fisher Kingâ€™s impotence symbolizes that of society and culture. Although capable of reproduction, the injury has rendered him infertile just as the war has caused Europe to deteriorate. Throughout the rest of the poem, Eliot continues to utilize this barren motif to express the lack of â€œsubstanceâ€ in culture. He uses many different sexual situations, which all lead back to the idea of being barren. In the Fisher Kingâ€™s case, that barrenness is his physical incapability to reproduce due to injury.
Eliotâ€™s second section, â€˜A Game of Chessâ€™, illustrates modern...