The Waste Land

Asceticism and Desire in The Wasteland

Many critics see Eliot's "Wasteland" as a form of social criticism, exposing the alternating boredom and terror inherent in modern life. While these themes do recur throughout the poem, a greater subtlety of meaning arises with Eliot's juxtaposition of classic religious texts against the modern landscape. Eliot's characters can, in some cases, be seen as failed heroes, striving for an asceticism which their society no longer validates. Although detachment from the physical world would, in past eras, have been idealized, it is now debased in a society where such detachment is associated with machines. Through exploration of the female typist character in The Wasteland's "Fire Sermon", the desire for and debasement of the ascetic ideal become apparent. Borrowings from Augustine's Confessions and the Buddhist Fire Sermon text reveal the typist to be not a dull form of mechanized life, but rather, a kind of ascetic "disciple" whose progress is thwarted at every turn.

Though it is not a simple project to find this sort of transcendence in modern life, the typist seems to try. She comes home at a time described as a "violet hour"; significantly, it is also when the "eyes...

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