Eliot and Empathy

Let me begin my admitting that, even during my third encounter with this text, I found myself having to resort to outside sources for commentary and clarification (Sparknotes...no shame). I find the entire poem to be incredibly challenging, but I love how it can be dissected into smaller and smaller pieces for close study. One of my favorite sections, one which I find quite simple to understand, is the final scene in Section II. A Game of Chess. The scene is one of the most realistic scenes Eliot creates--women at a bar discussing the affairs of their lives. These affair,s unfortunately, are not exactly positive.

Upon this reading of the scene, I found myself struck by the lack of empathy expressed towards Lil. Again, let me be honest, when I read things I British authors, I usually use a British accent. I find that it keeps things interesting. For this passage, I found it extremely helpful in developing the character of the main speaker. The flippancy with which she disregards Lil's sufferings are shocking. For example, her assertion that "if you don't give it to him, there's others will" was so heartless, it made me immediately question the relationship of the characters. Who would speak this way to one of their friends? If the characters are not close friends, why are they having this conversation? What do these comments say about Eliot's view of social interaction and relationships?

I don't have answers to all of these questions, but I think that I can begin to interpret Eliot's view. Simply put, these characters lack empathy. They are calloused and do not feel for one another. I think this holds true with the destruction of social interaction brought about by the war. People had seen/heard/experienced such horrible things that they were made hollow. I still think that a lack of true empathy still exists in our society today. People are dehumanized by the tragedies we (arguably) glorify in our news and media. In this aspect, it appears that Eliot claims that a waste land now exists within the human emotional experience.