In the introduction, T.S. Eliot brings up society’s different perceptions of people who dissent from the norm, referencing both Puritanical sentiments and more contemporary outlooks on the choices individuals make - and how it affects their satisfaction in life. He says that unlike the expectations produced by older (Puritan) morality that he recalls, wherein a person will succeed if they are prudent and practical, people in present-day are more likely to blame “society” for individual discontentment. He claims that what these different outlooks achieve is relatively similar - writing, “it seems to me that all of us, so far as we attach ourselves to created objects and surrender our will to temporal ends, are eaten by the same worm.” I found this interesting, and since he’s basically giving us a book review of his own, I carried this idea into the reading of the book. In the beginning, Felix’s character is explained, and we learn a lot about his mannerisms and beliefs. Barnes writes about how Felix “had insinuated himself into the pageantry of the circus and the theatre” (15). This part struck me, as it seemed to speak to Eliot’s earlier point in the introduction, which seemed to say that ultimately everyone is subject to the same perils of life, especially when they’re based primarily in material things. Some of the circus workers take on faux titles and names that poke fun at the nobility of Paris and elsewhere in Europe, such as Duchess of Broadback and King Buffo. I found a sort of connection between the old nobility, possessing all of the perks of such titles, and the faux nobility people created with false names. Even though the latter is not attempting to become noble, but rather playing against the implications of that status, I find that both groups are similar. They are both compelled to proclaim something about themselves for their positioning in society. It is obvious why someone of noble birth would want that to be known, which is why it is so ingrained in society that the nobility are to be so highly regarded in every way. On the other hand, the people who call themselves by these playful versions of noble-sounding names are not attempting to surpass others in importance, but it does help them create a persona and perhaps even allows them to obtain certain benefits in their place of work, even if it’s simply in the form of more attention paid or how memorable they are to others. Either way, both groups are surrendering in some ways to those “temporal ends,” and who could blame them? Eliot was certainly aware that people have to give themselves a leg up in whatever way they can, but especially those not born into wealth and status. Ultimately, caring too much about what the material world could offer you if you manipulate your talents, prospects, etc. enough - will still lead to the same dissatisfaction with life. Both groups can suffer from that, and both would stem from a fixed focus on the material things of life, and how much of those things one can obtain, and what that material would signify about an individual, including their work ethic, capability, beauty, talent, and a myriad of other factors people are measured by in society and even themselves.
Submitted by Abby Rush on Tue, 11/08/2022 - 18:45