The Role Of T. S Eliot’s Social Class In Writing Of His The Wasteland
“Marxist literary criticism maintains that a writer’s social class, and it’s prevailing ´ideology´ have a major bearing on what is written by a member of that class” To what extent is this true when looking at T. S Eliot’s The Wasteland? When looking at the meanings behind The Wasteland, I would say that I strongly agree with the statement as Eliot uses his high social class to criticise the lower working class. Eliot constantly changes the structure, location, time and speaker and keys some of his poem around criticising the lower class rather than making the reader feel empathetic towards them. He specifically criticises the poor because of their lack of education, their poor decision making and their absence of amoral compass and self-respect. Thomas Stearns Eliot was an essayist, publisher, playwright, literary and social critic and “one of the twentieth century’s major poets”. However, some critics such as Charles Powell condemned Eliot on his poem the Wasteland calling it “incomprehensible. ” The writers of the Time Magazine were similarly baffled by the poem at the time. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States and he moved to England in 1914 at the age of 25 after working and marrying in England. He later in 1927 became a British subject at the age of 39, renouncing his American passport. By Eliot renouncing his passport shows how he had assimilated into English civilisation.
Although definitions of social class in the United Kingdom vary and are highly controversial, most are influenced by factors of wealth, occupation and education. This meant that soon enough Eliot was labelled as a member of the higher class, despite his American nationality. Eliot criticises the lower class for making poor decisions. I believe that Eliot thinks that because he has had an education he should have the right to judge other people. I think Eliot forgets how privileged he has been growing up. Even without an education there are some things that are just basic common sense which I believe Eliot insinuates. “and we shall play a game of chess”, the quote from Eliot’s poem can be seen as a metaphor for sex. This section of the poem refers to how people waste their lives. I think that the meaning behind this is that they don’t do anything social or meaningless that profits their life in anyway. Emphasising that the best way to waste their life is to have a hot bath, have sex and wait to see what happens next. The poor can’t afford to live their life to the fullest as they are stuck in poverty. Eliot doesn’t suggest any alternative, something that could help them find meaning in their life. Instead ‘’waiting for a knock upon the door” suggests that the only piece of advice he has for them is to carry on having worthless games of chess and empty sex until something changes. This interpretation could go deeper by Eliot really saying that the only thing knocking on the door is death. The time which they waste will eventually run out one day and then they will die. Their life will mean nothing not to them and not to anyone they know.
As they are just a number as the country was overpopulated with the poor. The critical theology refers to people in power telling you to change when you are actually powerless to change due to social class. “Certain politicians would tell you to get out of the night shift, to get an education, to get rid of provincial accent, to buy the right outfit. ” The idea that the Eliot dismisses them for their poor decision making as they would rather waste their lives, but he seems to think hat you can only change things if you have resources such as money to change. The extract from the critical anthology is a key example of the higher class not understanding what it is like to live in poverty and tell them how they can change, but they are so arrogant with money they don’t understand that every costs money and because they lack respect for money and don’t understand the worth of money. They criticise the poor, because they think their life is easy changeable and they are making the wrong decisions by wasting their lives, but they don’t understand and don’t want to understand.
Furthermore, Eliot criticises the lower working class because of their lack of education. Eliot was well educated: he went to Merton College, Smith Academy, Harvard University and finally The Sorbonne. He was lucky enough to stay in education however many families had to pull their children out of education so they could work to bring money into the household so they could afford the bare essentials such as food. This would impact the children’s educational development as they wouldn’t’ return to education. Eliot’s family never needed to pull him out of education, instead he benefited from the different educational institutes. Eliot refers to a group of women at a bar who are talking loosely, it is more than likely that Eliot overheard the conversation. “Its them pills, I took bring it off she said (she’s had five already and nearly died of young George) The chemist said it would be alright, but I’ve never been the same…” This section of Wasteland refers to Lil who says that she ahs been messed up by the pills she took “to bring it off” the phrase means that she is aborting a baby. Any pill from the 1920s that could make you abort a baby was going to have a strong reaction on your body. As none of the pills, were certified by health associations therefore unlikely to be safe. Eliot is almost giving us a picture of how desperate the poor are and how bad things have got in English society. He doesn’t recommend any alternative for the situation but rather emphasises that she if she is silly enough to get herself in this difficult situation then she must pay for the consequences. Almost saying that she must know what happens when you have sex. Eliot doesn’t consider that she has been pressured into sex, but rather because she is poor he thinks that she must have wanted it to happen. As after all how else would they have got enjoyment. Instead, he criticises them Lil especially for her lack of education. So many women like Lil would have been in the same situation and nearly killing themselves, because they needed to abort their baby. One of the main reasons is that the family wouldn’t have been able to afford another mouth to feed. Eliot criticises them as their lack of education causes them to make decisions which aren’t safe.
Later on in the poem, the other woman such as the barmaid are telling Lil that if she doesn’t satisfy her husband, Albert’s needs he will just go with someone else. “But if Albert makes off, it won’t be for lack of telling. ” Lil’s primary function is to be available for her Husband to have sex with, so if her Husband leaves her then the other women have warned her. I don’t think Eliot pities any women like Lil, but rather looks at them like dirt. Lil has nothing which I think leapt knows but he doesn’t feel empathetic towards her, but more treats her as one of many. She is nothing important and is insignificant as she is has no worth. The only meaning she has is to have sex but then again someone can easily take her place. Just like the other lower-working class women. Her lack of education doesn’t help her to overcome her situation she can’t do any type of job where she’ll earn enough to look after herself instead she is independent on her husband who has had to go away to work and only earns the bare minimum. Moreover, Eliot disapproves of the lower class because they have a lack of moral compass. Tiresais offers us one of his stories about a female typist who has no respect. “The typist home at teatime clears her breakfast… on the divan are piled (at night her bed) stockings, slippers, camisoles and stays” The young woman doesn’t have a clean home. Eliot represents her as living a life like a layabout, the representation almost makes the reader think how can we have respect for her if she has no respect for herself. It is teatime and she is only just clearing up from breakfast even though the day is nearly over. It is expected that she should clear up immediately after finishing breakfast, but instead she probably doesn’t consider anything wrong with living us.
Eliot is signifying that there is something wrong with this. He uses this example to show how the lower class have no moral compass for the way they live. He doesn’t understand why she would allow her dirty underwear to be in a pile where she sleeps. It is unhygienic! It can be imagined that he would say that no higher-class woman would allow her underwear to be in a pile, because they have higher standards than the typist as they would want to be tidy and clean. Her actions are a representation of her own self. No higher-class woman would behave in this way in Eliot’s opinion because they have been taught the importance of self-respect. If you behave in a dirty and unclean matter, then be expected to be treated like this. This could be a potential reason why Eliot thinks that the lower class are so much inferior to him. In conclusion to this, I believe Eliot uses his social class to criticise the working class based on his wealth and superiority of having a good education which means that he doesn’t have to make the difficult decisions that many of the poor have to make. He thinks he can comprehend on the same level as them, but he can’t really as he’ll never understand their situation as he was never put in a difficult circumstance that the poor are in. Instead Eliot would rather judge and criticise them for their worthless life.
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