A blog for the comprehensive understanding of Literature, Applied Linguistics and ELT

January 20, 2012

Spiritual Decay in The Waste Land


Literature is a diverse form of art. Its range is inexhaustible. It is able to penetrate into almost every corner of life. The creator of literature has the liberty to explore all things around him, whether social, political, moral, religious, secular, or even trivial subjects. Literature enables the writer to do those impossible tasks which the general people couldn’t even conceive of. He hovers in the realm of his imagination and creates numerous works of art. Imagination sometimes includes simply idealistic manifestation of a subject. But sometimes it is employed to convey materialistic subjects too.

Imaginative literature chiefly revolves round idealistic matters. It is devoid of practical outlook of life. In most cases it transmits the audience into a world that is completely replete with situations that is not seen in the materialistic world. These include society without corruption, men having no characteristic shortcomings, supernaturalism, etc. Literature based on realism, on the other hand, reflects pragmatical aspects of life, along with its goodness and blemishes. Such a literature saw its heyday in the 20th century through the firm hands of a band of creative writers, such as Yeats, Eliot, and Auden.

Amongst the heavyweight modernist writers of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot is widely celebrated for his all-inclusive observation over the spiritual bankruptcy in modern Europe. Eliot’s scrutiny of the degraded modern civilisation not only earned him wide-reaching acclamation but also forged him as the voice of a disillusioned post-World War I generation. Eliot’s study of spiritual deficiency is amplified best through his groundbreaking poem The Waste Land, which, according to many literary scholars, is the apex paradigm of poetic expression in Modern Age. The poem is a symbolic representation of the sterility and degeneration of modern Western civilization as well as the poet’s own inner despair at the desolate prospect of the post-World-War I era, its havoc and frustration.

In The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot expands his theme of sterility and decay in the post-World War I man by focusing on the aspect of religious dearth or superficiality reflected in dispirited love. According to Eliot, man's inability to find real love or to move beyond superficial sexual gratification is congruous to the spiritual decay of his soul. Sex plays an important in human life. It is an expression of love and procreation. But in modern times sex has been moved too far from its real purpose and has become an animal urge without any moral or social commitment. Its severe perversion forced men to forget the true spirit of divine love. Now men and women engage in illegal relationship without any hesitation to fulfill their amorous desires. Sacrificing chastity and gratification of body has become a common phenomenon. Now their one and only concern is to gain filthy sexual pleasure, not spiritual experience. They are unaware of the fact that this type of pleasure is both transient and superficial/mechanical. The idea of superficial sexual gratification is revealed by the dull and loveless scene of seduction of a typist by her "lover". The sexual act is meaningless to the both participants.

Today the entire society is infected with the germ of sex pervasion. The conception of family is being shattered day by day. The lawful sex relationship between husband and wife is hard to find. People no longer want to confine their personal freedom within the obligations of married life. Now they want to be reinless like animals. They are desperate to fulfill their animal urge in anyway. For instance, Sweeney is a rich man who has formed amoral relationship with Mrs. Porter and her two daughters just to gratify his sexual passion. There is also adulteress like Lil who is degrading the divinity of marriage by sleeping with other men during her husband’s absence. However, the filthiest culture of all is the practice of homosexuality, which is preferred by persons like Mr. Eugenides. But all these misdeeds beget/bring nothing but utter frustration or mental tension. They feel guilty for their misdeeds and start to realise that they have lost their innocence. The story of the German princess (Marie), the hyacinth girl and Lil show the barrenness, frustration and pangs of guilty/recreational love.

The post-World War I society is corrupt to such a great extent that rape or sexual harassment is now a common occurrence. The victims don’t even dare to protest or complain because the so-called civilised society is unable to provide any solution. The bestiality of modern society is revealed through the seduction stories of the three Thames daughters.

Perverted sensuality has depraved human mind severely. Now man cannot think acutely. He is now spiritually barren. As a consequence, he has renounced religion and welcomed secularism. Excessive love sickness has made him insensible and narcissistic. He doesn’t feel any urge to revitalize his spiritual life. As a result, the emergence of April (the month of regeneration and rebirth) doesn’t stimulate his conscience or even make him happy. To him April is cruel because it reminds him of his spiritual decay and makes him think of regeneration. He likes Winter, the month of death and decay because during this period he feels free to enjoy all sorts of animal passions.
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”
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