T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land According to Psychoanalytic Criticism

Marwa Makram Attiya


Introduction T.S.Eliot ( 1888 – 1965 ) was an American – English poet, dramatist, and literary critic. He was a leader of the modernist movement in poetry in such poems like The Waste Land. He influenced by Ezra Pound’s Imagism.1 (Britanica). Imagism is a 20th century movement in poetry advocating free verse and the expression of ideas and emotions through clear precise images.2 ( MerriamWebster). According to this influence Eliot wrote The Waste Land in free verse. He divided it inot five sections. He expressed his ideas in short and unconnected way. When you read it you will feel that you are looking at many photographs or images. The most clear idea and emotion of the whole poem is pessimism. Eliot’s psychological state during writing The Waste Land was so bad. His life during the early 1920s was under personal strain, because he had marriage difficulties with his wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood. He was near nervous breakdown.3 (Litkicks). Thus, we can explain The Waste Land according to the psychoanalytic criticism. It expands the meaning of text to include the psyche of the auther, seeing the text as the expression in fictional form of inner workings of the human mind.4 ( Sohag University,12).


Section One The Burial of the Dead From the early beginning of the poem, Eliot introduced an Epigraph written in Latin and translated into English as follows: “ I saw with my eyes the Sibyl at cumae hangin in a cage, and when the boys said to her ‘Sibyl, what do you want that one replied ‘I want to die’ “. The original story is about Sibyl who wished immortality. But she forgot to ask for youth. When she grew up she wished to die, to put an end to her misery and to have a new beginning. 5 (Faten, Lecture). The Epigraph was very pessimistic sprang from Eliot’s desire to die. It seemed that at this time he hated life so much and wished to die. He may introduced Sibyl’s story in particular because of his illness and his feelings of being old, although he was only 34 years old at this time. The theme of this section is death. Eliot again expresses his feelings of pessimism and death. At the first episode he mentions Maria, who speaks about the seasons of the year. She speaks about the spring that ought to be the season of fresh life and happiness. But Maria believes that it is the most cruelest one. It represented by April. Because April wakes up the memories of the past with the spring rain. Then Maria speaks about winter that ought to be the season of cold life. But again she has another idea, she believes that winter covers the past memories with cold snow.6 (Faten, Lecture).


Here we can see that Eliot prefers dark and cold season which covers the memories of the merry past before his marriage difficulties. After that Eliot moves us to another scene. The speaker remembers a love scene when her beloved gave her hyacinths.But she believes that love is nonsense. She feels no hope in future, and she feels pessimism. Because the sea is empty. In the third episode, Eliot speaks about Madam Sosostris, a wise fortune teller. She gives the speaker his card which is the drowned phoenician sailor. Also she shows him many other cards. The cards of Belladonna, the man with three staves, the weel, the one eyed merchant who carrys something that she is forbidden to see. And the blanck card which resembels the thing that the merchant carrys. She also sees a crowd of people. And she can not see the hanged man. So she warns him from death by water. The crowd of people that Madam Sosostris sees round in a circle, without reaching any where.7 (Faten, Lecture). Eliot here expresses many allusions from ancient myth to indicate that every thing are useless. People believe strongly in myth, but Eliot wants to say that even strong believes are useless and insignificant. He continues his pessimistic feelings in the last episode. In London’s street a crowd of dead people. It may be the same crowd that Madam Sosostriss saw in her cards. Eliot wants to say the London is unreal city. It will vanish as every thing.


Among the crowd there is Stetson whom the speaker knows, from the battle of Mylae. The speaker asks him about the crops he planted last year. The speaker believes that this dead crops will never grow or bloom. Eliot wants to say that nothing can stand against death. The speaker believes that Stetson is a hypocrite because he wants something dead to bloom. At the last line, the speaker speaks directly to the reader. The speaker says that he himself and the readers are hypocrite like Stetson. The speaker may be Eliot himself who wants to say that everything is dead and any one sees any thing live is hypocrite.8 (Faten, Lecture).


Section Two A Game of Chess The theme of this section is the description of life and people as unkind and foxy. Through the episods of this section, Eliot describes many sad scene to emphasise his ideas. At the first episode he compairs between the lifeless and the game of chess. Both of them depend on cold strategies and relations away from feelings and humanities. Then he introduces a description of a woman’s room. The chair in which she sits is a burnished throne. This is an allusion from Shakespear’s Antony and Cleopatra. There is a golden cupidon and another one covers his eyes with his wings. The speaker also describes her jewels and perfums. There are the paintings of some ghosts and Philomel. This is also an allusion from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The original story is about king Tereus’s wife bids him to bring her sister to her. Upon seeing Philomela, Tereus falls in love. He rapes her. After that he cuts her tongue in order not to tell others what happened. But Philomela is able to weave on a loom what has happened. When she returns to her sister she shows her the loom. Her sister discovers the truth, she retrieves Philomela and slays Tereus’s son and feeds the carcass to him. Upon discovering that, he chases Philomela and his wife out of the palace. All of them transform into birds. The


speechless Philomela becomes a nightingale. Here Eliot expresses the idea of betrayal. After that Eliot completes his sad scene. A woman complains to the speaker her bad nerves. She asks the speaker to stay with her. Whe wants to know what the speaker thinks about. Then there is a dialogue between the woman and the speaker about the noise of the wind which brings nothing. And a game of chess.9 (gradesaver). Eliot here may express the problems between him and his wife. Because after that he compaires between the good past and the bad present. He may be happy before these problems. Then he expresses a failer relationship between a husband and his wife. The last part of this section speaks about two cockney women talking in a pub about Albert the husband of one of them, who comes back from the army. The other woman asks Albert’s wife because this is the time of Albert’s coming back. They speaks about Albert who may leave his wife if she does not relief him. He left money to her to change her tooth to become beautiful. They also speaks about getting red of pregnance. At last there is an allusion from Shakespear’s Hamlet. Speech said by Ophilia, “ Good Night “. Eliot wants to compaire between the two ladies and Ophilia to say that the past was better than present.10 (gradesaver). In this section it seems that Eliot distrust people. This feelings may come from his marriage difficulties with his wife. Because when any one has


problems with the only person whome he loved it may cause him to lose trust in life and people as a whole.


Section Three The Fire Sermon In the first part of this secion, Eliot trys to connect between this secion and the previous sections. So, he speaks again about death to connect this secion with the first secion. The speaker describes a scene of a river that is embty of life. No tent, no emby bottles, and no rymphs. The speaker asks the Thames river to run till the speaker finishs the songs. Then the speaker speaks about the rattle of the bones, and the wreck of his father and brother. There is a rat walks on a white dead bodies. Eliot wants to say that every thing is dead and lifeless by drawing dead scene.11 (gradesaver). Then Eliot speaks again about Philomela to connect this section with the second one. “ jug, jug, jug “ is her voice as a nightengale. “ Rudely forc’d “ refers to the violence treatment which she received from Terues who expressed by the last word “Tereu”. After that there is a sex scene. The speaker is a merchant. He may be the one eyed merchant whome Madam Sosostris mentioned in her card. He describes a love scene between a secretary and a young man. After that he left her alone with her mirror, and phonograph. Eliot wants to say that every thing is nonsense even love.


At the last part, the speaker is a woman speaks about her bitter lose. She was born in Highbury and lost her innocence in Richmond and Key. She speaks about her beloved’s promises of new start but invain.12 (gradesaver). Again appears the influence of his marriage difficulties that causes him to disbelieve in love.


Section Four Death by Water This short section deals with Phlebas, the drawned phoenician sailor mentioned by Madam Sosostris. Again Eliot trys to connect between all sections by mentioning Madam Sosostris through all sections. He also speaks again about theme of death particularely by drawning. It seems that he expresses his feelings of drawning in problems, ill, and sadness in his life.


Section Five What the Thunder Said At this section Eliot expresses his pessimistic feelings about lifeless life and distruction. About suffering people in places that full of stones and embty of water. It means that these places are lifeless. And the unreal cities of Jursalem, Athens, Alexandria, Vienna, and London. They are distroyed, rebuilt, and distoryed again. Nothing can stand against death. At the end Eliot expresses a fisher sits in the sea shore while London bridge is falling. Then comes the chant “ shantih, shantih, shantih “. Eliot in his note to the poem, transtalted this chant as “ the peace which passeth understanding “.13 (gradesaver). At last it seems that Eliot’s marriage difficulties influenced him so much to the extent that the female characters more than the male ones. Also his sad life during this time influenced his great poem The Waste Land. In contrary to the sad feelings that he experience in this period we can see how this bad feelings spring good thing that is his creation of his best works The Waste Land.


Works Cited List Ahmed, Faten. Lecture. Egypt : Assuit University.2008. (All subsequent references to this work will be taken from this edition and indicated in textual paranthesis ). Britanica Encyclopedia. T.S.Eliot. n.p. GradeSaver. Study Guide of The Waste Land. GradeSaver LLC. 2008. < http://www.gradesaver.com/classicnotes/titles/wasteland/section2.html> (All subsequent references to this work will be taken from this edition and indicated in textual paranthesis ). GradeSaver. Study Guide of The Waste Land. GradeSaver LLC. 2008. < http://www.gradesaver.com/classicnotes/titles/wasteland/section3.html> (All subsequent references to this work will be taken from this edition and indicated in textual paranthesis ). GradeSaver. Study Guide of The Waste Land. GradeSaver LLC. 2008. < http://www.gradesaver.com/classicnotes/titles/wasteland/section5.html> McGuirk, John. T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land. 2003. <http//www.litkicks.com/TSEliot>. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiat Dictionary. Eleventh edition. Springfield, Massachusetts:U.S.A . 2003. Sohag University, Dep. of English. Modern & Contemporary Literary Criticism. 2006.


Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.