Eliot's Use of Mythical Technique in The Waste Land

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      Eliot wanted to find a literary method which may show the relationship of the present with the past. The problems of the mankind are the same, though spaced by time. The solutions tried in the past and which have proved successful, could be tried in the present because the two types of crisis are not dissimilar. Eliot, therefore, chose the mythical method to establish parallel between the ancient world and the modern world. He had read two important books which threw light on ancient and primitive myths. These two books are Jessie Weston's book from Ritual to Romance, and James Frazer's famous book The Golden Bough. Eliot clarifies the mythical method in his own comment on James Joyce's Ulysses: "I hold this book Ulysses to be more important expression which the present age has found... "In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporary and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. They will not be imitators any more than the scientist who uses the discoveries of an Einstein in pursuing his own independent investigations. It is simply a way of controlling, or ordering, or giving a shape and significance to the intense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history... Psychology...Ethnology.. and The Golden Bough have concurred to make possible what was impossible even a few years ago. Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method. It is, I seriously believe, a step toward making the modern world possible for art, towards.... order and form,"

The essence of the mythical method lies in establishing a parallel between the past and the present. The comparison and contrast between the myths of the past and the solutions in modern world bring out the poet's meaning. Indirectly the poet gives his comment through the myths.
The Waste Land

      The essence of the mythical method lies in establishing a parallel between the past and the present. The comparison and contrast between the myths of the past and the solutions in modern world bring out the poet's meaning. Indirectly the poet gives his comment through the myths.

      Myth as objective co-relative: An objective co-relative, according to Eliot, "is a set of objects, situations, and a chain of events which shall be formula" for some particular emotion of the poet. For example, Milton uses the story of Samson as an objective correlative for expressing his emotions. Eliot, however, uses ancient myths and legions, both Christian and non-Christian as objective co-relative.

      The Protagonist - Tiresias: Eliot comments on the significance of Tiresias in these words: "Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a 'character' is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest." What Tiresias sees in fact, is the substance of the poem. The story of Tiresias is given by Ovid. He lived in the time of King Oedipus in Thebes. Once he saw two serpents mating together. He was cursed by them and transformed into a woman. After seven years he again saw another pair of snakes in copulation. They cursed him and he was transformed into a man. So, he had experiences of life both as a man and as a woman. Later on, he was questioned by Zeus and his wife Hera, as to whether man is more passionate than a woman. He declared that woman was more passionate than man. The goddess Hera cursed him with blindness. Tiresias became blind and he prayed to Zeus for mercy, Zeus, however, granted him a vision of prophet and as such he could predict things.

      Tiresias and King Oedipus: Oedipus, the King of Thebes, unwittingly killed his father and married his own mother. For this sex crime, the god cursed him and his land with a virulent epidemic and famine. The King consulted the blind prophet for the cause of the calamity. He told him that the King was responsible for the great calamity So, King Oedipus was advised to offer penance for his inner purification and the removal of the curse from the land.

      The significance of Tiresias: Tiresias belongs to the past and the present. He is a link between the waste-land of King Oedipus and the wasteland of modern civilization. Moreover, he has experience of life both as man and woman. Though physically blind, he is gifted with prophetic vision. He is an enlightened commentator on the modern wasteland. "He is at once the relic of the past and an inhabitant of the present, at once a prophet and detached spectator of the agonizing drama of contemporary history and a participator and fellow-sufferer, with a superior insight into the meaning of the ghostly masquerade, miscalled human life." Psychologically speaking, he is the conscience of humanity, banished and disowned by thoughtless men and women, but still strong enough to prick the bubbles of their illusions, joys, hopes and fears. He is the voice of sensitive humanity deploring the loss of spirituality in the modern world and probing into the strange disease which it has, with criminal complacency, mistaken for health. His vision pierces through this veneer of complacency and lays bare the sordid cares and languid pursuits, the boredom and sheer vacuity, of which humanity in the modern wasteland has fallen a prey In other words, he is an embodiment of human conscience and of higher humanity which deplores the loss of faith and normal values in the modern world. Tiresias is, therefore, a comprehensive symbol of prophetic commentation who gives his impressions and comments on the present-day world. According to Eliot, "Tiresias although a mere spectator and not indeed a character, is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand, Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, sexes and the two sizes meet in Tiresias."

      Vegetation and Fertility Myth: The seasonal cycle of nature is responsible for the primitive vegetation myth. Winter is the season of death while spring is the season of re-birth. The Life-giving spring rain gives vitality to the trees and plants. In ancient Egypt, the effigy of the vegetation god, known by different names like Osiris, Adonis and Attis was field with grains of corn and buried under the earth. This meant that the vegetation god was dead. After sometimes the grains sprouted from the earth indicating the re-birth of the god. This myth has been referred to in The Burial of the Dead. In some places the vegetation god was immersed in the river or in the sun. After sometimes, the effigy appeared on the surface and this was regarded as the re-birth of the vegetation god. There is a reference to this myth, in the section entitled Death by Water

      The pattern of death and birth, is continued in the Christian myth - the crucification of Christ and his resurrection. A spiritual death is the result of sin and a spiritual regeneration comes through penance and suffering.

      Myth of the Fisher King: Eliot connects the story of the Holy Grail with the Fisher King. According to him, the Grail was in the possession of Fisher King. He was a very sensual and sinful King and therefore he became sick and his kingdom suffered from drought and famine. According to another legend, the soldiers of the King raped the nuns attached to the Chapel of the Holy Grail. As a result of the sin, his kingdom suffered from famine. The King Fisher hoped that one day a knight would go to Chapel Perilous and thereafter, he would get well and his land would get fertile. Sir Parsifal, the virtuous knight visited the chapel and thereby the curse on King Fisher and on his land was removed. "The Waste Land" of the Fisher King stands for the wasteland of the modern land. The sick King stands for the sick humanity, and just as the sickness of Fisher was due to sexual orgies in the same way the sickness of the modern men is due to their sexual perversions. Sex has been degraded to an animal passion and not as a means of the expression of true love. The modern sick world can be restored to help through penance and the pursuit of virtue.

      Biblical Waste Land: It has a reference to the land of Emmaus mentioned in the old Bible. The land became barren and dry on account of the idolatry of the dwellers. Prophet Ezekiel told them to worship God and to give up idolatry so that the Waste Land may become fertile There are references to the Biblical Waste Land in the words like the rock, the dead tree, and the dry grass mentioned in the section 1 of The Waste Land. The dry grass on the dry land or the dry bone stands for barrenness of the sterility of spirit, a sort of Death-in-life. Water stands for spiritual re-birth or a Return to health and vitality. However, death by water in section IV has nothing to do with the water symbol mentioned above.

      Conclusion: Through the mythical method, the poet had connected the modern waste land with the other waste lands of ancient times namely the waste land of King Oedipus of Thebes, the Waste Land of Fisher King and the Biblical Waste Land. The idea behind this pattern is that it is possible to restore the waste land to fertility through the remedies followed in the past, namely repentance and penance. Eliot describes a similar remedy for the modern waste land through the philosophy of St. Augustine and the eastern philosophy of Buddhism and Hinduism. The salvation of the modern world lies in the words uttered Da Da Da by The Thunder.

University Questions also can be Answered:

1. Examine critically Eliot's use of the mythical technique in The Waste Land.
2. Give a brief sketch of the technique of communication used by Eliot in The Waste Land.
3. Examine the significance of Tiresias with reference to the statement: "There is no unifying principle in The Waste Land."

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