Functionalism explains human society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions, and institutions.
A functionalist reading of myths might extract the universal human laws.
This presentation attempts to identify some Universal Human Laws in T.S. Eliot's modern epic 'The Waste Land'
Universal Human Laws in The Waste Land (T.S. Eliot)
Universal Human Laws in
The Waste Land
Dept. of English, M.K. Bhavnagar University
Gujarat - India
• Are myths subtle codes that contain
some universal truth? Are they a window
on the deep recesses of a particular
culture? Or are they just entertaining
stories that people like to tell over and
• Functionalism explains human society as a
whole in terms of the function of its
namely norms, customs, traditions,
• A functionalist reading of myths might extract
the universal human laws.
• The Waste Land not only makes extensive use of
myths but also makes, a myth – the myth of the
hollowness of Human Beings in Modern Times.
• The rituals of the modern men are mythified –
which in turn attempts to legitimize it.
• Or rather it would be better to say: the rituals
(sexual perversions) are illegitimized in epic which
is heavily drawn as modern day myth – the myth
of decay, desolation and degeneration of human
values, civilizations and cultures.
• As the poem operates in a dismantling way,
rather than legitimizing, it illegitimizes the rituals
of the Modern Times. . . Or the sexual perversion
is sinned and thus it is legitimized to see sex as
Apart from legitimization of sexual sins
for spiritual degradation and vice
versa, the Functionalist reading of The
Waste Land may give us many more
Universal Human Laws
• Here is the list of the Universal Human Laws:
• Nostalgia is the most powerful force in the universe
• Memory and desire
• Tiresias is nostalgic – Stetson, divan . . .
• When there is memory of something lost with deep
urge to go back to it, is called nostalgia
• That memory has turned into dull roots and there is
deep craving to revitalize it.
• Rain gives us the feeling of satisfaction as it gives us
illusive assurance of the revitalization of dead
• The decayed condition of the civilization and
a culture of living dead
• Epigraph - Sibyl
• Past and future clash with each as-yet-
unformed and just-beginning present
• In decaying culture, where people are caught
in an abandoned present between a past
whose meaning is lost and a future that
offers no hope, superstition trumps faith and
anxiety accompanies every action
• “withered stump”
• The oppressed with a sense of not being free,
consequently, withdraws from the world of
experience to the world of contemplation
• Marie in the mountains
• In the mountains, there you feel free . . .
Reading much of the night,
and going south in winter.
• It is the eternal ‘present’ of the human
condition: ‘fear in the handful of dust’.
• The spirit that animates handful of dust, in the
present, is a decaying and sickened one.
• Fatal love and inevitable death
• Love mixed with death and rebirth
• The temporal disorientation confounds the idea
that there is material progress through history
and reinforces the emptiness of experience that
is at the heart of the poem.
• Although time has progressed, human behaviour
and the human experience remains fixed.
• Oneness of experience of all wars and characters.
• Battle of Maylae is juxtaposed with WW-1
• The brute within the human is the obstacle to
both death and resurrection (return to life).
• The dog that’s friend to men – digs up the
corpse and insures the continuation of
• Voyeurism and the repression of the desire to
• Shame and ostentation (vulgar show of
wealth) are mixed as are sensual impulse and
chaste avoidance of power of sensuality
• A cupid peeped out from behind the vines and
‘another hid his eyes behind his wings’.
• Our lives are depleted and we are on the verge
of shipwreck. But we are not really shipwreck.
• The barrenness of the world, the impotence of its
creatures is an illusory reality.
• It is caused by an obstruction of vision, which is
the result of passionate attachment to desire.
• By recurring allusion of ‘The Tempest’, Eliot turns
the play into a metaphor for the condition
described in The Waste Land
• ‘Those are pearls, that were his eyes’.
• Drowned Phoenician sailor
• Death by water
• The third hooded one who walks beside . . .
• The perverse fertility out of which nothing
grows but rot.
• Fire sermon – first paragraph
• River’s tent is broken, last fingers of leaf,
clutch and sink into the wet bank.
• Riverside ought to be fertile area, yet the
nature of its fertility betrays the possibility of
• Death itself is the agency for bringing forth
the recognition of the sacredness of life
which may not be wasted in the barren
landscape and the meaningless pursuits
described in the poem.
• Death by water: is a reminder of death and
• Death-in-life and life-in-death (Cleanth Brooks)
• Death of God
• The crucifixion represents the mythological
slaughter of God. (torchlight red sweaty faces,
frosty silences in the garden)
• If the culture is not meaningfully attuned to the
values of the Christian sacrifice, whose customs
and ceremonies are corrupt, the ritual of
resurrection that concludes the death of god
does not occur.
• Thus, this death renders both human life and
human death meaningless.
• The cause of the barrenness of the waste land is
NOT the god’s actual absence but mankind’s
inability to recognize him even when he is
• Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
• Knowledge of what is needed is not the same as
attaining what is necessary (require).
• Datta – Give (God)
• Dayadhvam – compassion (humans)
• Damyata – self-control (Demons)
• Our needs are limited but what we require is endless.
• Nature has everything to satisfy the needs of humans,
but nothing to satisy, its greed. (MK Gandhi)
UHL - 16
• Purgation of sin through refiner’s fire is a
precondition for emerging from the condition
• The condition of death-in-life is the sate of sin.
• Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina
• (Dante’s Purgatoria: a character suffering in
the cleansing fire of the Purgatorio ‘Please
remember my pains – it is only through
suffereing that regeneration can take place)
Which of the above given UHLs
did you find more interesting?
Give you choice/s here:
• Major Source: Bloom’s Guides: The Waste Land. 2007 (Summary and Analysis)
• http://www.jetotak.sk/uploads/tx_tmarticle/soul_ma_astronomy.jpg (Title Image)
141295.jpg (Sibyl quote image)
%20of%20freedom%20with%20boy-500x425.jpg (Freedom Image)
• Handful of Dust: HurtLocker Poster
• Tristan and Isolde (http://www.angelfire.com/me2/legends/Artpage2.html)