T.S. Eliot’s Critique Of Industrialization And Dehumanisation In His Poems

Despite the implications of the First World War, an internal struggle individuals experience is through physical decay of their surroundings. The dehumanisation of the modern age is presented in Preludes by T.S. Eliot through the fragmentation of the body in the synecdoche 'muddy feet' and 'hands', the “soles of the feet”, and 'palms of both soiled hands'. The sense of estrangement in the lines characterizes Eliot’s view of degraded urban life with its mechanization and loss of human identity, using the disembodied body parts to emphasize the depersonalising effects of increased industrialisation. Eliot creates sordid images of the urban environment that is “withered”, “vacant” and “broken” to depict the meaningless feelings of individuals as each individual was just one of “a thousand furnished rooms”, stressing the ephemerality of urban life, and contributing to isolation within an urbanised milieu. Eliot’s images become an objective correlative to the disillusionment of society, confronting the tragic reality of the implications of industrialisation and moving away from the romantic illusion of a perfect life in order to construct a mirror of society. 

Similarly, The Hollow Men captures the decay of the environment through the visual imagery of “a dead land, a cactus land”, symbolising the destructive effects of the rise of industrialisation. Eliot generates the lifelessness and aridity in the Hollow Men's 'dried voices...quiet and meaningless' to reflect his view of failed social structures and the phenomenon of malfunctioning communication, utilises the fragmentation of rhyming couplets and semantic patterning to portray this isolation. Eliot’s depiction of the hollow men as “stuffed men” exemplifies the emptiness and superficial existence in a modern industrialised society controlled by machines. By breaking free from prevalent rigid traditions and conventions, Eliot is able to observe the world from a different perspective and convey the essence of contemporary life rather than an escape from the grinding nature of reality. 

However, the hostile cityscapes present in both poems give way at last to a more hospitable landscape in Journey of the Magi, where Eliot utilises visual and olfactory imagery to create a scene “smelling of vegetation” with a “running stream” and a “temperate valley”. Eliot once again alludes to faith and spirituality as being the antidote to the desolation and devastation of the increased industrialisation. The extended metaphor, “water-mill beating the darkness” highlights the beauty of nature versus the cruelty and increasing pessimism evident in society. However, this dramatic monologue also discusses the sense of isolation that stems from holding beliefs that are different from the majority. The rise in industrialisation not only isolated people from each other but saw a detachment of society away from God and prayer. The religious ignorance stemmed from the industrial revolution isolated the Magus from his society, expressing turmoil through “alien people clutching their gods”. The magus has come in terms with the scale of the change that the rise of industrialisation has brought about, and his subsequent lack of place in his society. 

The poem uses extensive fragmentation to establish isolation and helplessness felt by the persona caught between two different worlds. Eliot reflects his personal struggles through literary critique Russel Kirk saying that “Eliot felt...an isolation from others… a tendency towards solipsism.”

Eliot’s new faith ostracised him from the secular modern world where industrialisation has caused more harm than good. He articulates an authentic reflection of life in this modern society, depicting the paradoxical despondency felt by the modern man, despite the supposed “progression” of society through the industrial advancements. This, however, was uncommon for literature in the modern age. Eliot’ confrontation of the detachment of individuals from society, broke the first layer of overcoming the issues of his context by allowing them to make sense of the chaos surrounding them. 

09 March 2021
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