Gothic Elements in T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land"
By: Nada al-Habardi
The term Gothic is derived from a medieval style of architecture suggestive
of a passionate and barbarous world, filled with evocative ruins of abbeys
and castles. The setting above all marked a departure from the domestic
fiction popularized by Samuel Richardson(1689–1761), and although there
are noteworthy continuities in the plots and themes -- sensitive heroines in
distress being threatened with respect to their virtue and even their lives -the Gothic gave greater emphasis to the Sublime and the supernatural.
The historical origins of Gothic writing in the eighteenth century are
simultaneously political and aesthetic. Rising along with the English novel
during the same decades that are the prelude to Romanticism, the Gothic in
its narrative form engages issues of beauty, the character of the sublime and
the grotesque, the political dynamics of British culture (especially with
regard to the kind of social change that comes to be represented by the
French Revolution), the quality of being English (including the holding of
anti-Catholic religious attitudes), the structure of the economy (especially
concerning property in a market economy and gift-exchange), and the place
of women in hierarchies of power. Stylistically, the Gothic has always been
excessive in its responses to conventions that foster the order and clarity of
realistic representations, conventions that embody a cultural insistence on
containment. The essentially anti-realistic character of Gothic writing from
the beginning creates in advance a compatibility with modernist writing.
That compatibility begins to take a visible merged form in the 1890s in
Britain. In the development of the Gothic after the French Revolution, the
characteristics and issues apparent in Gothic writing of the eighteenth
century carry forward into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but they
are significantly transformed, intensified, and disseminated by interactions
with national literatures and political events outside England. Eventually
they are affected by the historical development of modernity in wider than
national arenas, including colonial and postcolonial situations.
T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is a dark and gloomy view of a zombified
modern experience. In accordance with the tenets of representing the fear
seen in postmodernism, Eliot uses Gothic images to show the bleakness of
the modern world in all of its terror.
Post-modernism embodies a tone of the external world being
unrecognizable, and thus invoking fear within its concepts. It shares the idea
of Gothic literature portraying the terror of unknown monsters and demons,
but it is the modernity itself, which has become the demonized unknown
within the context of postmodernism. The poem's setting is a vision of the
Gothic terrain, with its "heap of broken images," "That corpse you planted
last year in your garden," "The wind under the door," "bones cast in a little
low dry garret,”.
There are several gothic elements which have an important dimension
in “The Waste Land,” one of which being the image of death. The concept
of death in Eliot’s masterpiece brings significance in its symbolic nature, not
necessarily purely physical. Eliot presented a spiritual and emotional death,
rather than purely emphasizing the physicality of the experience . Thus,
there are dead men walking. Those within the cities have died a “symbolic
death,” refusing to move on towards an area of more spiritual significance
They have died in a much more spiritually significant manner.
Moreover, there is the element of haunting that is common within
Gothic literature and is replayed in Eliot’s image of the world’s Metropolis
death. Haunting plays an important role within postmodernism and Eliot’s
work “The Waste Land.” He shows the dead men walking as haunting the
earth. Research suggests that “The terror of the Gothic therefore […]
functions as a deconstructive counter-narrative which presents the darker
side of subjectivity, the ghosts of otherness that haunt our fragile selves,”
The structure of the poem itself also helps portray Gothic imagery.
There is “Gothic imaginary at work on a number of different levels
supporting the theme of terror and linguistic frustration,” The introduction is
in Latin and Greek, which anchors the gothic themes of the past that is so far
removed from us. From there, Eliot consistently writes in fragmented words
and phrases which then represent the fragmented lives being lived within the
context of modernity. Thus, “the nightmare of fragmentation will
persistently haunt the ego as a recollection of its functionality,”
T.S Eliot,one of his horrific images in the poem ,will show you fear in
handful of dust ''in handful of dust'', is a fearful image that he will show the
reader that his life worth nothing. It may also remind them of their end.
Another example of the horrific images , (Those are pearls that were his
eyes. Look!) This is an image of ugliness and horror. It is horrific image of
white ball of the eye that is shining like the pearl in the bottom of the water.
''Look'' is an invitation to see the actual death, destruction and alienation of
the person. Nothing remains of him but a blank look in the eyes. It is a
fearful ugly horrific picture, and that images emphasis in the gothic
-Belville, Maria. “The Gothic-postmodernist ‘Waste Land’ of
EllowenDeeowen: Salman Rushdie’s Nightmarish Visions
of a Postmodern Metropolis.” Nebula. 4(1). 2007. Web.
30 Dec 2010.
- Frankenstein's Monster: The Gothic Voice in The Waste Land
by Randy Malamud
-Introduction: Toward a History of Gothic and Modernism: Dark Modernity
from Bram Stoker to Samuel Beckett
by John Paul Riquelme
Maria. Gothic-postmodernism: Voicing the Terrors of
Postmodernity. Rodopi Press. 2009