T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland Essay

3458 words - 14 pages

T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland

In T.S. Eliot’s most famous poem The Wasteland, a bleak picture of post-war London civilization is illuminated. The inhabitants of Eliot’s wasteland are living in a morally bankrupt and spiritually lost society. Through fragmented narration, Eliot recalls tales of lost love, misplaced lust, forgone spirituality, fruitless pilgrimages, and the “living dead”- those who shuffle through life without a care. These tales are the personal attempts of each person to fulfill the desires which plague them, though none ever stop to consider that what they want may not be what they need, nor do they consider why it is they feel they must do these things. Through studies in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic perspective on human drives, the various Christian theories of Mark Jordan and Kirk Bingaman, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s atheist existentialism, a movement that demands that a person take control of their actions, the character’s actions can be understood. It is through these tales of misplaced hope that the motives of the characters, and the reason they feel these needs, are discovered. As each mistakenly tries to find a purpose in this modern wasteland, it is made clear that desires are often confused with needs and that while some searches are often made with the best intentions, the most humanity can hope for is a visceral happiness achieved through brief moments of authenticity.

In Sigmund Freud’s Beyond The Pleasure Principle, he explains that each person makes the choices that they do, simply because they want pleasure. He states that there is no moral or emotional state that drives affairs, only the need for enjoyment and dislike for pain that makes people do what they do. He claims there is a “…dominance of the pleasure principle in mental life” (5), which can account for many of the actions of the wasteland citizens. It is not, however, a reasonable excuse for their actions. As Jean-Paul Sartre states in his essay “The Humanism of Existentialism,” “Man is nothing, but what he makes of himself” (36). Under such a view the inhabitants, and humanity in general, are completely responsible for the choices they make and the state of affairs they find themselves in. It is not enough for them to just do whatever they feel like doing. Humanity must go further and we must know that we are making an active choice and will be forced to live with the consequences of such a decision. There is, yet, one more way to look at the actions and decisions of humanity. In The Ethics of Sex, Mark Jordan states, “[One] require[s] rather a persuasion to change his actions” (55). What this means is that, in order to make a big change to the corrupt way we are living, humanity must see the consequences of our actions. Right now we have not see enough reaction or negative consequences and without that, humans will continue to go for the easiest search and not work toward something we actually need. However, Jordan believes...

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