T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" demonstrates a religious sentiment about the increasing lack of restraint in human sexuality. The reader experiences a morose overtone from the title of the poem to its almost nonsensical conclusion as Eliot describes this fantastic yet hauntingly familiar wasteland. The oncoming sexual revolution appeared imminent as a reaction to the repressive Victorian society of the past generations. Eliot sensed the changing world and forged this poem to strike at the heart of this growing trend of immorality. Eliot critiques many aspects of European society but sex is the easiest facet of his assault on society to recognize and unpack, perhaps done so on purpose. Despite the overwhelming concern of spirituality and the casual references about gender and culture, sex appears to be at the ominous center of it all, the bane of Eliot's conservative Christian attitude, and the running theme in "The Waste Land."
The first English lines of the test refer to the prospect of sex in a negative light: "April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land mixing/ Memory and desire (ll. 1-3)." Already the description of the setting is a menacing take on the act breeding. Spring, traditionally the time of rejuvenation and rebirth, operates with "dead land." The act of breeding is much less harmonious than tradition would state.
The most prominent example in dealing with the prospect of intercourse in European society at the time is in the second book "A Game of Chess." "think of poor Albert/ He's been in the army four years, he wants a good time/ And if you don't give it him, there's others will (ll. 147-149)." Sex, here, is viewed as a bare human necessity, lacking all forms of spirituality, love, or respect between two individuals. It is purely for the satisfaction of man against the celibacy of time and war. The bothersome aspect of this conversation is the fact that any woman will do. All that the wife is expected is to receive first priority. She should fail, another will take her place. Eliot demonstrates the human persona as devoid of reason by the imposing carnal desires of the flesh. The wife had also been expected to pay for teeth, making her more appealing to her husband, Albert. Should she fail to do either the task of replacing her teeth or satisfying him sexually, she will lose him.
The "checkmate" moment, of this passage at least, is Lil's comment back to her unnamed opponent in this conversation. Upon the mention that others will take her place in Albert's bed should she not, Lil says "Then I'll know who to thank (l. 151)" and gives the speaker a "straight look." The prospect of being a cuckold both acts as the text and the subtext in this section, although more raw emotion is present in the subtext. Lil has no intention of thanking anybody, but makes a direct accusation to her advisor. The opponent is not only a rival in this conversation but a sexual rival to Lil, herself in terms of her husband's potential advances. Sex is the basis for conflict. When sex becomes meaningless, when those involved are simply out for satisfaction instead of spirituality, it becomes as tawdry and cosmetic as false teeth.
The conversation shifts abruptly to include the reaction to Lil's pill-popping at the foolish advice of an apparently inept doctor. The speaker provides a glimpse of purpose in the sexual conversation by mentioning the prospect of children. "What you get married for if you don't want children? (l. 164)" she asks. This question appears to seal the deal as the reader sees, in hindsight, that Lil did give in to a "gammon" a word with several implications such as a deceptive talk, meaning that her opponent tricked her into having sex with her husband, or referring to a victory in backgammon without the loss of a single piece. The nagging bartender cuts off the story a victory for him at the hands of the night (or the knight), the final word of the second book. This reference to sex as a game and therefore a trifle of what it should be is Eliot's attack of England's contemporary culture. The reader is unsure of the true implications of Lil's "hot gammon," but aware of the disgraceful implications involved with this particular couple as a metaphor for all.
The implications of sex in a relationship act as a cultivation of the previous actions or events the parties incur leading up to it. The promise of sex is denied to Gabriel in James Joyce's "The Dead," as the result of a recalled memory by his wife, Gretta. On a night of dancing and fun where Gabriel, who had labored over a speech throughout the course of the story, finally performs it to the overwhelming satisfaction to him and his audience, where the kids are taken care of and the room is ripe for a lonely couple, the denial of sex serves a tremendous physical and emotional blow. In the context of the story, it is meaningless. Gretta is consumed by the past memory of a boy, her first love, who died as a result of his desire to look upon her one more time. This revelation is put into tremendous perspective as Gabriel "stretched himself cautiously along the sheets and lay[ed] down beside his wife" at the conclusion of the story. There will be no sex.
Eliot's reverence to the emotional aspect necessary for fornication comes through more clearly in Joyce's tale. Should love be a trivial matter of life, sex would still occur this night in Gabriel's life. This is not the case. Sex should be more than a carnal desire, a scratch to the itches of the groin. In this aspect it is wholly unimportant. Eliot succeeds in displaying this through a bar story and blossoming of flowers from a dead earth. Joyce succeeds in denying it to a superficially worthy character at the behest of a greater love, a love that Gabriel admits he has never felt. If Gabe had been the boy, if he had surpassed as the great love, had Michael Furey not existed, the moment was ripe for sex. But love wins out in the end. In times when love and sex are so different, it is when they coexist that true spirituality and beauty progresses.
Volumes have been spent unpacking the multiple themes of this poem, the weight of which is so consumed by Eliot's unwavering arrogance and intelligence that is becomes part of his argument itself. If such a smart man wishes to change society, then we should change it because he knows best. To attack sex is Eliot's attempt to re-establish his renowned Christian ethics upon European society. The onslaught of a meaningless hedonistic society in the Modernist world was a necessary undertaking of his. Whether the dead sprouts of the Waste Land blossom into a new realization for the readers of the poem of the same name is a subject of debate. The expectation of sex and denial of sex still possesses a strong impact in today's society. Eliot's words have done little to change and much to appreciate these moments of irrevocability. Gammon.
"La Terre en Friche"
Ist das Gedicht