The Absence of Fertility in T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland"

Essay by moon_vixen33University, Bachelor'sA+, June 2005

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Written in the 1920s, this T.S. Eliot poem describes the modern world as a wasteland in the aftermath of World War I. Literally, "The Wasteland" refers to the battlefields of France, where French and British troops fought the Germans, and have been transformed into muddy graves. Figuratively, Eliot captures the emotional and spiritual despair that had been evident in Europe but became augmented by the deaths associated with WWI. For many, it was difficult to believe that a benevolent God would condone such a mass slaughter and thus, an increasing number of Europeans began to lose faith in Christianity. In addition to this spiritual crisis, the lifestyles and relationships of many Europeans became infiltrated with decadence, meaninglessness and alienation. In the epigraph of "The Wasteland," Eliot displays his pessimism towards modern culture by referencing Sibyl, a mythological woman blessed with eternal life but cursed with old age. Eliot, himself, is forced to live in a culture that has decayed yet will not perish, while constantly being reminded of humanity's former glories.

Eliot often alludes to the myth of the Fisher King, who has sustained an injury to his testicles. This wound renders him infertile and causes his kingdom to become a wasteland, similar to the modern world. In order to regenerate the land, the Fisher King must be cured. However, Eliot believes that the Fisher King and by extension, modern society, cannot be healed. In "The Wasteland," Eliot expresses his displeasure with modern society and his belief that humanity could become unsalvageable, if certain lifestyle changes are not adopted, through the use of traditional symbols of fertility and regeneration.

Images of fertility, rebirth and regeneration are often optimistic and offer hope through new life or the renewal of a decaying life form. However, Eliot often uses contrasts these symbols by...