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“The Waste Land” by Thomas Eliot

Advancements in the Humanities

In 1922, Eliot wrote The Waste Land, a long poem, which imagery occupies the minds of scholars to this day. Various themes explored by the author in this writing include despair, stillness, and futility of life. Researchers focus on different topics of the work and often compare the described situations to the lives of modern people, arguing that Eliot wrote this poem to highlight some of the existing problems in contemporary society. One of the themes is the barrenness of a person which can be interpreted as both infertility or inability to have children and spiritual emptiness. It is possible to argue that Eliot’s description of the emotional and mental barrenness of a person is represented in contemporary society and its lack of mobility.

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Source and Controversy

The notion of emotional emptiness and inertia of people as described by Eliot is analyzed in the work of Saleem, Ali, and Kousar (2015), where the authors interpret the poet’s words in order to prove that he intended to outline this modern issue and bring it to the public’s attention. In their article, the authors try to answer a number of questions. First of all, the authors state that Eliot attempted to show the immobility of life in all parts of the poem, describing nature, people, and events with the language that is full of fatalistic notions. Secondly, according to the researchers, the concept of inertia is present throughout the poem as well. In fact, one can note the words of narrators of the poem as the primary source for this impression.

For instance, the readiness of people to mindlessly follow the actions that reoccur can be seen in the first lines of the text, in which the narrator speaks about the seasons. The author writes that “summer surprised us / we stopped in the colonnade / and drank coffee, and talked for an hour” in order to show that people follow the same motions every season (Eliot, 1922). According to the author, summer always comes unexpectedly, which indicates that people are used to a particular routine that they are not ready to change with the seasons. Saleem et al. (2015) state that the metaphor of winter being warm and comfortable can be described as people being used to particular physical activities that are not filled with spiritual meaning. Therefore, spring is disturbing to individuals because it brings chaos and excitement to one’s existence. Therefore, such descriptions show that Eliot examines the spiritual emptiness of modern people.

Furthermore, the use of unreal cities as central places of action in many parts of the poem further enhances the feeling of immobility. These cities are full of ghosts that are not able to return to life. Their place in the narration is to show the decay of human existence. Here, death may be interpreted as not physical but emotional, as people are alive but not active. Affection and relationships are also perceived as fruitless and empty by the author. The conversations about love and family between the narrators and other people in the poem are devoid of passion. According to Saleem et al. (2015), the text also outlines the problem of materialistic lust and people’s desire to indulge in the pleasures of the body but not the mind. These concerns are also often expressed in regards to modern society.

All in all, the central controversy of this poem that needs further researching is located in the themes of spiritual barrenness and emotional emptiness that can be found in contemporary society. The poem The Waste Land explores these issues by presenting different stories of people who see relationships, seasons, and various activities as monotonous and repetitive.


Eliot, T. S. (1922). The waste land. Web.

Saleem, M., Ali, A., & Kousar, S. (2015). The waste land by TS Eliot: A site for inertia in motion. Gomal University Journal of Research, 31(2), 182-193.

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