The Waste Land

Upon reading The Waste Land for the first time, what stuck out to me the most was the first half of section 2: A Game of Chess. It starts off simple and normal: a woman waiting for her lover to arrive. As time passes and her lover still hasn't shown up, the format of the poem becomes more erratic, emulating her thoughts.

The way the poem is written - appearing well put together at first and eventually breaking apart - struck me as very true of human nature. When we dwell on something for too long, eventually our thoughts become disjointed and unstable, causing panic and anxiety. The passage begins to break apart when the narrator first speaks to herself: "My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me" (111).You know things are bad when you start talking to yourself, and clearly Eliot used this as a device to make the reader feel more anxious as well. There is a clear buildup in this passage, and there seems to be a buildup in the other passages as well. Each story is building up to something, but I'm not quite sure what to make of both sections altogether.

 

Comments

I fully agree that the disjointed nature of the woman's thoughts resemble human nature.  We are constantly thinking of a hundred different things at once, so when one thing lingers too long in our minds, it creates chaos for out internal selves.  I think the repetition of "HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME" in the end of the poem shows the anxiety and internal chaos that the woman is feeling (what is it time for, exactly?), and it's definitely building up to something!

I agree! That's also a motif in Eliot's Four Quartets, which deals with the nature of time and memory. Memory, by nature, is constantly changing and inconsistent. As we dwell more and more on issues in the past, they become more and more corrupted and further from the truth, causing a lot of anxiety. It's also the same in the Dostoevsky novel, Notes From Underground, which is completely retrospective. The narrator has dwelled on the past for so long that he's completely warped it, a memory of a memory, and he's ruined his life stressing over it.

If you're interested in the subject of memory and its volatility, you should read Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I can recommend a specific translation if you want.