A Game of Chess: by T. S. Eliot || Summary and Analysis

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      Introduction : A Game of Chess is a device used by Middleton in the play entitled Women beware Women where this game is played to hide the seduction of a young girl by a noble man. In this section the poet indicates the failure of sex-relationship in the modern world. Sex has become a purely physical kind of entertainment and has lost its moral and social purpose. Sex perversities both in high and low life, have become a matter of mechanical routine.

Summary :-

      The first scene is laid in the drawing room of a fashionable lady called the lady of situations who is an expert in sex intrigues. Her drawing room is gorgeous and smells of voluptuousness. The paintings and other works of art refer to stories of ancient love and rape. The story of Philomel, the raped girl who was transformed into Nightingale - is a symbol of purification through sufferings but in modern times, love has degenerated into lust and there is no hope of regeneration.

The first scene is laid in the drawing room of a fashionable lady called the lady of situations who is an expert in sex intrigues.
A Game of Chess

      The lady of situations is waiting for her lover, who arrives after sometime. She complains of headache which is representative of nervous break-down of a modern woman. After some petty conversation, the lady wishes to run out into the streets. Her empty, aimless routine represents the barren life of a modern woman. She has to follow the dull routine, hot water bath in the morning, a game of chess in the club in the afternoon and then rest. One is reminded of the aimless running of rats among the dead bones.

      Sex in real life : The second scene shifts to a tavern where two ladies talk about the sex matters. Lil's husband has come back from the army after four years. He wants an active sex life. The lady of the Rocks advises Lil to look young and pretty to retain the love of her husband, otherwise there are many other girls who will give company to her husband. Lil is getting old and she cannot satisfy her husband. Moreover, her last abortion has ruined her health. She is afraid of repeated motherhood. She is confused and frustrated.


      Description of drawing room of the Lady (L. 77-110) : The Lady of the Rocks (Belladonna) sat in a royal chair which looked a polished throne. The reflection of the chair could be seen on the marble floor. The looking glass was supported by pillars which had the designs of fruits and grapes carved on them. A golden image of Cupid hung from one of the pillars. Another small image of Cupid could be seen peeping out behind the wing of the golden Cupid. The flames of the seven candles burning in the chandlier, were reflected in the mirror. The double reflection appeared on the shining table while the glittler of the jewels of the lady which stood in their satin boxes, added to their brilliance. The bottles of ivory and coloured glass were opened and they gave out a strange fragrance of synthetic perfumes. The make up of the lady consisted of creams, powders and liquids. All these gave out a dizzy fragrance which drowned the sense in odours. The fragrance was disturbed by the air which came fresh from the windows, and as it went up it fattened the long-lasting candle flames and turned their smoke towards the ceiling, thereby disturbing the patterns carved therein (ceiling).

      The logs of sea-wood along with copper pieces, burnt in the fire place were panelled by coloured stone. The flames appeared green and orange and in the dim light thereof, was seen the carving of a swimming dolphin. A little above the antique metal was hung a picture of "The change of Philomela" and it looked as if a window opened upon a sylvan scene of thre fate of Philomela so rudely raped by the barbarous king. Philomela who was transformed into a nightingale filled the desert with a sweet music. Even till today she continues to cry and still the world listens to her, but her cry has been interpreted as the reaction of her rape to the dirty ears of the modern man. Many other carved figures and decorations dealing with the stores and nyuls or the past could be seen hanging on the walls of the drawing room, staring images, and carving leaned out from the walls. The room appeared quite hushed and silent. Suddenly there was a sound of footsteps which indicated that some visitor was about to enter the drawing room. The lady sitting on that room got a little excited and with the light of the fire started looking for her brush in order to keep her hair in form. She brushed her hair, which are spread out in fiery points indicating her excitement.

      Sex in high society (L. 111-119) : As the lover entered the drawing room the lady said to him: "My nerves are bad to-night. Yes, really bad, please stay with me and speak to me. Why do you never speak? Please speak. What are you thinking of ? What thinking? What? I never know what you are thinking. Think. The lover replied: "I think we are all in a rat's alley where the dead man lost their bone." The lady asked: "What is that noise?" The man answered: "It is the wind under the door." The lady asked: "What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?" The man answered : "Nothing". The lady again asked: "Do you see nothing? Do you remember nothing ?" The man answered "Iremember that those are pearls that were his eyes." (This is line from Shakespeare's The Tempest. The lady asked again: "Are you alive or not ? Is there nothing in your head ?" The man answered: "O:O:O:O:" This was a line from Shakespeare's play: "It is so beautiful and intelligent." The lady asked: "What shall I do?" she herself gave the answer: "I shall rush out as I am and walk into the street with my hair down as it is." She again asked: "What shall we do tomorrow? What shall we ever do?" She remembered the routine-hot water bath at ten o'clock and if it rains, a drive in a closed car to the club at four. There we shall play a game of chess, pressing open eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door." (This is a reference to Middleton's play entitled Women Beware Women).

      Married life of the lower classes (L. 139-172) : This is the story ot the married life of Lil and Albert. Their relations are not quite happy on account of sex perversion. When Lil's husband was to be released from the army, her lady friend met her in the pub and told her quite frankly that now. Albert was coming back from the army, she (Lil) should make herself a little smart and be attractive for him. Albert would certainly like to know what she did with the money which he gave her to get a new set of dentures. The lady told Lil that Albert did gave her money because she was present then, and remembered his words that she should have her teeth extracted and get a new set fitted in. He told her that he could not bear to look at her and that was quite true. Even the who talked to Lil could not hear looking at her and thinking of poor Albert, the man had been in the army for four years and now that he was free, he wanted a good time. The lady warned Lil if she did not give a good time (sex-indulgence) to him. There were other women who would be glad to be so. Lil said that if it was so, she knew whom to thank for ranking this trouble for pleasing her husband and gave her (the lady) a straight revealing look.

      The bar-maid at this time cries out that the pub is about to close and her voice could be heard inspite of conversation between the two ladies. The lady told Lil that if she did not like her advice, she could do as she pleased. Others could pick and choose if she (Lil) could not. she warned her that if Albert left her, she would have to blame herself because she has had her advice. She told (Lil) that she (Lil) ought to be ashamed for looking so old, though she was only thirty-one. Lil replied with a sad face that she could not help her looks because of the abortion pills that she took to get rid of pregnancy. She had already five children and she nearly escaped her death when the last child (George) was born. The chemist had assured her that the pills were safe but she knew to her cost that they had ruined her health. She could never be what she was before taking the pills. The lady told Lil that she (Lil) was a great fool. If Albert would not leave her alone, she had no other alternative but to live with him. Why did she get married if she did not want children. Marriage and children went together. The bar-maid again shouted that it was time for the pub to close down. That sunday Albert was at home. They (Lil and Albert) had a hot gammon and they invited the lady to dinner to eat the hot dish. The bar-maid again shouted that the pub was being closed immediately.

      We bade goodnight to each other and left (The last line: "Good night.." is taken from Ophelia's farewell' in Hamlet, which symbolically sums up the tragedy of the married life of Lil and Albert).

      Conclusion : The idea behind the tavern scene is that marriage is meant for regulation and discipline of sex-instinct and not for excessive sex relationship. The perversion of sex has made modern life barren and desolate.

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