"Cultural modernism is an experience in which all that is solid melts into air and therefore suggests change, uncertainty and risk" (Barker 190). Eliot's, The Wasteland is a perfect example of a modernistic writing because there is hardly any solid flow throughout the poem. The whole of the poem is fragmented reflecting the modernism movement Eliot was in, where linear structures where discarded to create a flow less peace of work. " a jettisoning of linear narrative structures in favour of montage" ( Barker 193). Parts of the poem ' The Burial of the Dead', 'A Game of Chess', 'The Fire Sermon','Death by Water and ' What the Thunder Said' have no connection in their events. In addition, inThe Wasteland, all of the characters in the poem are scattered throughout to intensify the feeling of lost for the readers. Some of the characters are, Tiresias, Phoenician sailor, one eyed merchant, Madame Sosostris and many more. For example, " Is your card drowned Phoenician Sailor" (Eliot 64) and " Phlebas the Phoenician , a fortnight dead" ( Eliot 75).Furthermore, each character have their own story to tell and these events are not connected at all like " A heap of broken images" ( Eliot 63). In Burial of the Dead, for example there is no connection of storyline between Marie, Hyacinth girl and Madame Sosostris. The lack of structural coherence in the poem and scattered persona were done intentionally by Eliot to deepen the sense of uncertainty, chaos and emotion of and sorrow in The Wasteland. " The aim of the poet is to construct something like a modern epic, not in the form of a traditional narrative,images, symbols and series of events which intensify the world to these emotions" (Patterson 135). Besides that the poets own voice in the poem in despair could not articulate fully his meaning of the entire poem due to it's fragmented state. " I can connect Nothing with nothing" ( Eliot 74). This feeling of despair is then transferred to his readers and thus create an overall chaotic feel of effects of war to the poem . Therefore it is clear that the fragmentation of T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland was due to his commitment to Modernism movement during his era (sociocultural context) and it is integral to understand the meaning of the poem.
The sociocultural background of the society portrayed in T.S Eliot's The Wasteland was depressed. Effects of World War had made people feel dejected because it caused millions of lives and dollars. It also created the Great Depression and unerasable trauma within the society. Hence the actual cause to the feeling of depression is then integral to the overall meaning of the poem. It is vital for the readers to understand that The Wasteland was written in reaction to World War One. For example, in the epigraph of the poem, "Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi inampulla pendere, et cumilli puer idicerent: Sibylla ti theleis; respondebat illa: apothanein thelo" ( Eliot 61). It means Sybil an old prophetic woman from Greek Mythology hanging in the jar wishing to die, which then gives us idea that depression mood overwhelms the poem, The Wasteland. Next, April was said to be "the cruellest month,breeding Lilacs out of the dead land" (Eliot 63) when it is the month where regrowth, renewal and rebirth takes place. Whereas, winter was portrayed in a positive light where it gives warmth and food to the people in The Wasteland. "Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow,feeding A little life with dried tubers" (Eliot 63). The Great Depression due to the World War have left the society in disillusionment where they are unable to differentiate the seasons . Uncertainty began to dwell in the minds of the characters in the wasteland. Furthermore, lands became barren, infertile and not fit for vegetation in Eliot's wasteland. Only corpses lay buried in this barren wasteland. " That corpse you planted last year in your garden,"Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?" ( Eliot 65). Thus the poem mirrors the society which Eliot lived in through the characters and surrounding which were overwhelmed with grieve and depression which can be seen in line 62 and 63 of the poem."I had not thought death had undone so many. Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled" ( Eliot 65). " In Essence The Wasteland says something which is not new that life has become barren and sterile that man is withering, impotent and without assurance" (Seldes 40).
Next the society depicted in The Wasteland are isolated and lost . For example, even though the woman in the first part of 'A Game of Chess' is wealthy and was compared to Cleopatra by Eliot, yet she was depicted as being all alone with all the riches she owned. "Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door" (Eliot 68). In 'The Fire Sermon' the typist during teatime was also pictured as being alone"Paces about her room again,alone"(Eliot 71) . Even though the typist was visited by her lover, in the end she still feels alone and "she is bored and tired" (Eliot 72). Through these examples, we can understand that "The Wasteland seems to be a chiefly important social document" ( Lewis 58) that depicts the sociocultural context after war. Hence it is clear that the poem gives an authentic impression of the mentality of people from all sorts of background in the psychological decline that took place immediately after war which is then integral to the overall meaning of the poem.
" Modern institutions are based on the principle of doubt, All knowledge is formed as an hypothesis open to revision" ( Barker 190). Since Eliot's The Wasteland is modernistic in it's sociocultural context, we can find elements of doubt in the poem. For example, the character Marie in 'The Burial of the Dead', is shown as struggling for self identification in Eliot's modern wasteland. "Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch" (Eliot 63). Meaning, I am not Russian at all; I come from Lithuania, I am a real German which tells us that Marie had to stress that she is from Lithuania and a German in the Wasteland to clear the doubts of the society in the wasteland. Next the Hyacinth girl from The Wasteland expresses her doubt when she uttered"I was neither Living nor dead, and I knew nothing" (Eliot 65). This struggle for certainty and self identification in the midst of doubt in Eliot's wasteland proves that modern civilization is indeed lost, in doubt and in disillusionment. Being hundred percent sure, is seen as impossible in modern sociocultural context. Furthermore, one must not forget that the the true or concrete meaning of the poem itself is doubtful and therefore open to various interpretations by critics. "Does the poem accurately record the society of post-1918 or, as Craig suggests, is it merely personal defeatist?( Cox and Hinchcliffe 17).
The modern Wasteland of Eliot, is a place of depression, ambiguity, emotionless and lost of hope. No matter what type of class or background people are from, they most certainly feel the pessimism that dwells the wasteland. Industrialism is one of the important aspects of modernity. Though industrialism brought about job opportunities and urban development, but it also created " the poverty and squalor of industrial cities"( Barker 192) due to capitalism. The rich gets richer whereas the poor became poorer. Hence emerge low culture and high-culture subculture which was depicted in Eliot's The Wasteland. The perfect example can be seen in ' A Game of Chess', where woman from both upper class and lower class are experiencing the dark side of modernity. The woman in a brilliant and glorious setting who was compared to Cleopatra is feeling depressed, loneliness and was shown as unable to communicate.
"My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
"Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
"What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
"I never know what you are thinking. Think" ( Eliot 67).
On the other hand, a woman from the working class in a London pub is also feeling down even though her husband is returning home after four years fighting in the war. She talks about abortion rather than birth which further deepens the sense of depression in ' A Game of Chess'.
"You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique.
(And her only thirty-one.)
I can't help it, she said, pulling a long face,
It's them pills I took, to bring it off, she said.
(She's had five already, and nearly died of young George"( Eliot 68).
Hence it is clear that the sociocultural context of The Wasteland is divided into high and low culture but, the classes feel the negative effect of modernity and World War One which have mad their lives miserable and lost the sense of direction. "the easiest contrast in ' A Game of Chess'- and one which may easily blind the casual reader to a continued emphasis on the contrast between the two kinds of life, or the kinds of death, already commented on -is the contrast between the life in a rich and magnificent setting, and life in the low an vulgar setting of the London pub. But both scenes however antithetical they may appear superficially , are the scenes taken from the contemporary wasteland. In both of them life has lost it's meaning" (Cox and Hinchcliffe 137).