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T.S. Eliot And Society Essay, Research Paper

Modernism was the time period between 1865 and 1950 that consisted of a change in the perspectives of how Americans examined themselves and their role in society. Many things occurred during these eighty five years that accounted for a great social change. Among these things were World War I, the Civil Rights Movement, prohibition, women suffrage, and the Great Depression. Particularly after World War I and during women?s suffrage, society?s standpoint on certain issues changed dramatically. After World War I, people?s attitudes swung with high expectations for themselves but were soon lowered after the economy?s fall. During women?s suffrage, society?s focus on simple traditions shifted to concentrate on more of urban culture. The Great Depression also caused major stress and hopelessness for the nation resulting in a time of despair for much of the world. Meanwhile, many writers emerged, such as Ezra Pound, e.e. cummings, Langston Hughes, and Wallace Stevens. These writers found themselves in a generation of consecutive movements. While having to sustain their creativity, they had to go forward with the seasons at the same time. Their works are characterized as ?breaking away from patterned responses and predictable forms?(Reuben). Many of their pieces challenged tradition against new manners. The outlook of society changed from a moral perspective to fast times. Many people tended to look apart from average events that occurred in their daily lives to find greater reasoning.

T.S. Eliot is considered to be one of the most prominent poets and playwrights of his time and his works are said to have promoted to ?reshape modern literature? (World Book). He was born in 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri and studied at Harvard and Oxford. It was at Harvard where he met his guide and mentor Ezra Pound, a well-known modernist poet. Pound encouraged Eliot to expand his writing abilities and publish his work. Eliot became an England citizen in 1925 and received the Nobel Peace Prize for literature in 1948. Eliot connected most of his earlier works to French Symbolists, such as Mallarme, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud and first came into contact with these three in college while reading The Symbolist Movement in Literature by Arthur Symons (Pearce). He created a eminent style that was original and new. He gained their ability to write poetry filled with wisdom while adding his own passionate language. Eliot?s most famous works included The Waste Land (1922), ?The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock? (1917), ?Cousin Nancy? (1924), The Criterion (1922-1939), ?Ash Wednesday? (1930), Four Quartets (1936), The Cocktail Party (1950), The Confidential Clerk (1954), and The Elder Statesman (1958). His early works, like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and The Waste Land, formulate on a wide range of cultural reference to depict a modern world that is in ruins yet somehow beautiful and deeply meaningful (Spender). Eliot?s later poetry began to change to more spiritual and religious themes as he got older and declared Christianity. His later works tended to focus on giving revelations instead of centering on the behavior of mankind like his earlier poetry. Most of his poetry came from observations he made by watching humans interact with one another and their environment. He believed in speaking truthfully and bringing originality to everything he did. Eliot made it clear that the poem should come before the poet and emphasized society?s role. As a whole, the works of T.S. Eliot depicted the public?s position as a moving culture faced with conflict.

Eliot?s poetry informs the reader of certain human circumstances whether they are resplendent or disturbing. Many of his poems are associated with death and dreadful things. For example, his poem, ?Whispers of Immortality,? which was written in 1920 gives an unpleasant glance at death and the interest behind it. During this time, the world was suffering from a turning point caused by World War I and many of the population?s young men were getting killed. On the contrary, other poems consisted of humor. In a way, Eliot used amusement to confront important social problems, such as his poem ?The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.? It presents a ludicrous situation packed with pessimism that permits the reader to associate him or her self to the main character and ask questions. For many readers in the 1920s, the main character, Prufrock, seemed to summarize the frustration and insecurity of the modern individual. As Pearce stated: ?[Prufrock] seemed to represent thwarted desires and modern disillusionment.? His poems also make the reader aware of enduring circumstances, such as the role of tradition in the home and the argument of religion. ?Modern poetry, such as Eliot?s, was the first great ideological response to social crisis and breakdown of shared religion,? noted Reuben.

Eliot?s poems reflect the chaotic lives of individuals and society as a whole. ?Modernism thus marks a distinctive break with Victorian bougeois morality; rejecting nineteenth century optimism, they presented a profoundly pessimistic picture of a culture in disarray,? Keep points out. Eliot?s most distinguishable piece of work concerning the disorder of the community was The Wasteland. In this five part play, Eliot produces characters based on the manners of individuals living during the World War I generation. The characters are going through a distress and morals are thrown out the door while they still seek and hope for a good resolution. The stress of the poem is on the conflict surrounding faith instead of the declaration of it. Most of his other poems during this time reflected on society?s hopelessness and desperation following the war.

Many of Eliot?s poetry centers around the plight and the lifestyles of women. During his career as a writer, women began to climb the social ladder. Many women began taking jobs that were usually male-dominated and they also got the right to vote. The Portrait of a Lady, ?Aunt Helen?, and ?Cousin Nancy? are among various poems written by T.S. Eliot that has themes dealing with women and their advancement in society. In the poem ?Cousin Nancy,? Eliot writes:

Miss Nancy Ellicott Strode across the hills and broke them,

Rode across the hills and broke them–

The barren New England hills–

Riding to hounds

Over the cow-pasture.

Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked

And danced all the modern dances;

And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,

But they knew that it was modern.

This poem fully demonstrates the impact of the woman?s presence in the modern society. It shows the confidence of the new profound woman and how the older generation, or ?her aunts,? reacted to the new movement. His poems mirror the women of that time period as they began to explore their sexuality and intellect. He confirmed their position in the world, especially at a time of change.

Eliot was deeply concerned with the culture?s moral emptiness and on ways to become more honest people. Unfortunately, by the time Eliot wrote on cultural issues, beginning in the 1930s, we had lost so much of our inheritance that we no longer recognized our condition (Keep). For in that case, Eliot had to find a way, through his writings, to explain the importance of having a culture. His poems ?A Cooking Egg? and ?Mr. Eliot?s Sunday Morning Service? are prime examples of his concern for the ethical values of society. The aftermath of the war and the depression of the 1930?s caused hardship for the nation?s people and resulted in violence and ailment. ?Eliot stressed that morals and assurance was passed down through cultures and that culture cannot be separated from religion? (Keep).

T.S. Eliot challenged tradition in society and, then, reinforced it. Customs and traditions are said to be the two main things that make a culture prosper. In his essay, Tradition and the Individual Talent, Eliot explores the role that tradition plays in humans, particularly writers. He declares that the dictionary meaning of tradition should be discouraged and that tradition is something earned rather than being passed down. . ?Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour,? Eliot writes.

In conclusion, Eliot?s poetry connects to society by providing a window into individual thoughts and behaviors of that time period. Eliot was engaged with what kind of society we claimed and where we was going from there.

Works CitedEliot, T.S. The Complete Poems and Plays. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1971.

Keep, Christopher, Tim McLaughlin, and Robin Parmer. The Electronic Labyrinth. 1993. http://www.jefferson.village.virginia.edu/elab.html. 24 Apr 01

Pearce, Roy Harvey. The Continuity of American Poetry. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1961.

Reuben, Paul P. ?Chapter 7: Early Twentieth Century-T.S. Eliot.? PAL: Perspectives in American Literature– A Research and Reference Guide. 7 June 2000. http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal.html. 24 Apr 01.

?T.S. Eliot.? World Book Encyclopedia. World Book, Inc. 1985. pp. 185-186.


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