Dr. Nessma Abdel Tawab Salim

A Lecturer of English Literature in the Faculty of Education, October 6 University, Egypt




 World War First was a disappointing destructive experience for Europe. Due to mass destruction—the war was a traumatic experience even for those who were not part of the direct fighters. Both the English novelist Virginia Woolf and the English Poet T.S. Eliot were the preeminent writers of the period among those literary writers who were deeply traumatized and destructed by the consequences of war. In her novel To The Lighthouse and his poem The Waste Land, both Woolf and Eliot offer a depiction of modern human beings as destructed victims of the war. This research aims at evaluating First World War and the psychological destruction it caused as experienced by modern human beings through Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse 1927 and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land 1922

   Hysteria in modern life is a common word recurrently used to express psychological breakdown; a psychosomatic disease. Before Word War, hysteria was perceived as a female-exclusive disease. However, with the Great War in 1914; 19th-centuryth century hysteria is perceived as general disease of women and men as well. The fact that T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse are written within the same decade 1915-1925, makes them share the same elegiac mood that is based on the hysteria caused by war. This paper handles five main elements in both literary works: To The Lighthouse and The Waste Land; first, hysteria and psychological alienation, second, death by water, third, trauma as a psychological echo or ghost, fourth, journeys of self-discovery, and fifth, the sense of loss, and fragmentation, in both literary works respectively.

Keywords: Hysteria, World War first, To The Lighthouse, The Waste Land

من المعاناه إلى الدراما: الالم النفسي في مجموعة مختارة من الأعمال الأدبية الإنجليزية الحديثة

الدكتورة نسمه عبد التواب سالم

مدرس الادب الانجليزى بكلية التربية – جامعة السادس من اكتوبر

جمهورية مصر العربية


كانت الحرب العالمية الأولى تجربة مدمرة مخيبة للآمال لأوروبا. بسبب الدمار الشامل ، كانت الحرب تجربة مؤلمة حتى بالنسبة لأولئك الذين لم يكونوا جزءًا من المقاتلين المباشرين. كل من الروائية الإنجليزية فيرجينيا وولف والشاعر الإنجليزي ت. اس إليوت الكتاب البارزين في تلك الفترة من بين الكتاب الأدبيين الذين أصيبوا بصدمات شديدة ودمار من جراء تداعيات الحرب. قدم كل منهما في روايتها نحو المنارة و في قصيدتة الارض الضائعة تصويرًا للإنسان المعاصر كضحايا مدمرين للحرب. يهدف هذا البحث إلى تقييم الحرب العالمية الأولى والدمار النفسي الذي تسببت به كما عانى منه البشر المعاصرون من خلال كتاب فرجينيا وولف إلى المنارة 1927 وت.اس إليوت الارض الضائعه1922

الهستيريا في الحياة الحديثة هي كلمة شائعة تستخدم بشكل متكرر للتعبير عن الانهيار النفسي. مرض نفسي جسدي. قبل حرب ، كان يُنظر إلى الهستيريا على أنها مرض خاص بالإناث. ومع ذلك ، مع الحرب العظمى في عام 1914 ؛ يُنظر إلى الهستيريا في القرن التاسع عشر على أنها مرض عام يصيب النساء والرجال أيضًا. حقيقة ان كتابة هذه الاعمال الادبية في نفس العقد 1915-1925 ، يجعلهما يشتركان في نفس المزاج الرثائي الذي يعتمد على الهستيريا التي تسببها الحرب. تتناول هذه الورقة خمسة عناصر رئيسية في كلا العملين الأدبيين: ؛ الأول: الهستيريا والاغتراب النفسي ، ثانيًا ، الموت بالماء ، ثالثًا ، الصدمة كصدى نفسي أو شبح ، رابعًا ، رحلات اكتشاف الذات ، الخامس ، الإحساس بالفقد والتشرذم ، في كلا العملين الأدبيين على التوالي.

الكلمات المفتاحية: الهستيريا ، الحرب العالمية الأولى ، إلى المنارة ، الأرض المهملة


World War First was a disappointed destructive experience for Europe. Due to mass destruction—the war was a traumatic experience even for those who were not part of the direct fighters. Both the English novelist Virginia Woolf and the English Poet T.S. Eliot were the preeminent writers of the period among those literary writers who were deeply traumatized and destructed by the consequences of war. In her novel To The Lighthouse and in his poem The Waste Land, both Woolf and Eliot offer a depiction of modern human beings as destructed victims of the war. This research aims at evaluating First World War and the psychological destruction it caused as experienced by modern human beings through Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse 1927 and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land 1922

   Hysteria in modern life is a common word recurrently used to express the psychological breakdown; a psychosomatic disease. Before Word War, hysteria was perceived as a female exclusive disease. However, with the Great War in 1914; 19th century hysteria is perceived as a general disease of women and men as well. The fact that T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse are written within the same decade 1915-1925, makes them share the same elegiac mood that is based on the hysteria caused by war. This paper handles five main elements in both literary works: To The Lighthouse and The Waste Land; first, hysteria and psychological alienation, second, death by water, third, trauma as a psychological echo or ghost, fourth, journeys of self discovery, and fifth, the sense of loss, and fragmentation, in both literary works respectively.

In their book Traumatic Pasts History, Psychiatry and Trauma in the Modern Age 1870-1930, Mark S. Micale and Paul Lerner state that:

             In the English Speaking world, as historians have abundantly shown, the hysteria diagnosis evoked decades of psychiatric writings on women and the pathologies that doctors associated with the female body. In Germany, however, the growing interest in hysteria developed alongside the debates on traumatic neuroses and accident insurance. Thus in German medicine before and during the war, hysteria and everything to do with war, and its class-specific characteristics proved more enduring than its gender associations (155)

       The legacies of war exposure lead to hysteria, psychological alienation, fragmentation and other effects that are reflected and detected in literary works. In Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, the effect of World War First is reflected and exemplified in the Ramsays family. The novel reflects the mentality of the civilians who suffer the hysteria and trauma of the war though  not involved personally in it. Characters of the novel live under constant threat. The effect of war is felt in each scene in the novel as in:

           But slumber and sleep though it might there came later in the summer ominous sounds like the measured blows of hammers dulled on felt, which, with their repeated shocks still further loosened the shawl and cracked the tea-cups. Now and again some glass tinkled in the cupboard as if a giant voice had shrieked so loud in its agony that tumblers stood inside a cupboard vibrated too (To The Lighthouse, 111).

Death haunts Mrs. Ramsay who suffers from the loss of Andrew Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay suffers from the traumatic sense of loss, isolation, disappointment and disbelief. Mrs. Ramsay’s hopeless attempts to restore the pre-war values and self recognition, prove to be a failure as she unexpectedly turns to be a strange person; with different traits where Woolf says:

            The girls all liked her. But, dear, many things had changed since then (she shut the drawer); many families had lost their dearest. So she was dead; and Mr Andrew killed; and Miss Prue dead too, they said, with her first baby; but everyone had lost someone these years (To The Lighthouse, 115)

There was a perfect vision of England’s future and its people, but world war has changed all these visions and ambitions of people, leaving them with hysteria and trauma in a waste land.

   The sense of trauma which leads to hysteria in the novel, is reflected in the imagery. For example sea and water are always associated with relaxation , easiness and comfort. However, water’s archetypal significance changes in To The Lighthouse, becoming the symbol of familial distance, lack of communication, fragmentation and alienation. The omnipresent presence of the sea and its stretch between the lands of the novel is the symbol of the lost incomplete vision of all characters and the sense of trauma that haunts the characters:

            For, though they had reached the town now and were in the main street, with carts grinding past on the cobbles, still he went on talking, about settlements, and teaching, and working men, and helping our own class, and lectures, till she gathered that he had got back entire self-confidence, had recovered from the circus, and was about (and now again she liked him away on both sides, they came out on the quay, and the whole bay spread before them and Mrs Ramsay could not help exclaiming, “Oh, how beautiful!” For the great plateful of blue water was before her; the hoary Lighthouse, distant, austere, in the midst; and on the right, as far as the eye could see (To The Lighthouse, 10)

Water represents the natural world of human beings that encompasses mortality, time and trauma; water of the sea proceeds as usual regardless of whether human beings are happy or grieving, in peace or war, or even alive or dead.

     Hysteria in relation to modern trauma is the inevitable outcome of the fact that death is gradually claiming human life and beauty, destroying every beauty turning it into decay; as Shakespeare states in sonnet 18; “And every fair from fair sometimes declines”. In Woolf’s novel the same theme is conveyed through the sea as it gradually eats away at the shore, dissolving the land by beating ceaselessly, representing human fate; un-escapable:

              Mrs. Ramsay with James in the window and the cloud moving and the tree bending, how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach (To The Lighthouse, 40)

Water is the symbol of a human tortured soul; traumatic unconscious. The elegiac mood of the novel is due to the constant failure of overcoming human demise or the mortality of human life; caused by war. It is during World War First that the ocean appears senseless, wild and savage.

    In Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, trauma takes the form of a ghost or an echo belonging to another world beyond the limits of human perception. Tony M. Vinci describes trauma as

              ‘More than a pathology or the simple illness of a wounded psyche: it is always the story of a wound that cries out, that addresses us in the attempt to tell us of a reality or truth that is not otherwise available’ (Caruth 4)…For classic trauma theorists, trauma seems to belong to another world, beyond the limits of our understanding (4-5).

In her novel, Virginia Woolf describes trauma as a different reality. It is a world of another nature, present and absent at the same time; exactly like the sea. The sea forms the background of the novel; the sound of waves is constant and persistent: “if they were ill, if they had fallen down and broken their legs or arms; to sea the same dreary waves breaking week after week, and then a dreadful storm coming” (To The Lighthouse, 33).

    The different reality in Woolf’s novel is traumatic and hysteric, as stated by Tamas Benyei and Alexandra Stara in their book The Edges of Trauma : Explorations in Visual Art and Literature where it is asserted that

            If increasingly memory worth talking about—worth remembering, is memory of trauma (Antze and Lambek 1996, xii), narratives of trauma seem to focus more on causes or symptoms than on the subject. Trauma can be identified by the relation that can be traced between certain symptoms and a specific, haunting cause…However, in Woolf’s case, critics have taken the events of her life at face value and linked them with the instability she is known to have suffered from (49-50).

Traumatic soul is expressed in the novel as a journey of silence, contemplation and self-reflection undertaken by characters in the form of soliloquies and self-monologues. Tamas Benyei and Alexandra Stara describe these undertaken journeys as meaningless; like that journey of James to the lighthouse. The journey is actually a reflection of the unconscious of each character in the novel. It is true that the journey is taken by James, but on a deeper level it is a journey of self-discovery, a self-recognition, redemption, a healing journey after a long life of trauma and agony. However, unfortunately the journey does not succeed. It did not achieve its major goal of healing the traumatic soul of the young son James who feels the futility of the journey after the death of his mother and mentor Mrs. Ramsay. James is filled with apparent hatred to his father as a response of his mother’s hatred of his father too. That’s why his journey is not but an indication of a failed attempt of reconciliation between the father and his son. James is portrayed as a psychopath who dreams of killing his dad Mr. Ramsay. James’ portrayal as a traumatic 8 year old child is significant as it sheds light on the fact that trauma and psychological sickness is the for granted natural feeling in modern life, even for those children who did not experience First World War or even participate physically in it.

    Actually, the elegiac mood of Woolf’s To The Lighthouse encompasses a complex sense of loss which results from the traumatic hysteric soul. James’ journey to the lighthouse takes place after the death of the mother in a symbolic way to imply the failure of the journey’s aim. Readers can predict the failure of the journey. Ironically, instead of being happy and satisfied with his life dream; visiting the lighthouse, James expresses his feeling of anger, resentment and rejection when planning to go to the lighthouse with his father:

              So it was like that, James thought, the Lighthouse one had seen across the bay all these years; it was a stark tower on a bare rock. It satisfied him. It confirmed some obscure feeling of his about his own character. The old ladies, he thought, thinking of the garden at home, went dragging their chairs about on the lawn… “We are driving before a gale—we must sink,” he began saying to himself, half aloud, exactly as his father said it.
Nobody seemed to have spoken for an age. Cam was tired of looking at the sea. Little bits of black cork had floated past; the fish were dead in the bottom of the boat (To The Lighthouse, 171)

The above mentioned quotation does not only show the sense of loss and disappointment resulted from the traumatic soul of James and Cam, but it is also a documentation of nature’s sympathy and support to those feelings of trauma and loss. Environmental elements of the novel do work as a technique catalyzing psychological fragmentation and trauma. Waves, dead fish and dull birds are all sympathizing with James and Cam, representing their sadness, trauma, and melancholy.

    The journey of self-discovery is another common aspect between the two literary works, To The Lighthouse and The Waste Land. In To The Lighthouse, the journey of the Ramsays to the lighthouse is more than a physical journey. The lighthouse appears different according to the perspective of every visitor. In their book Image and Ideology in Modern/ Postmodern Discourse, David B. Downing and Susan Bazagran Say that

              The journey of adventure is undermined in To The Lighthouse, where Woolf traces the journey of a father and son to the lighthouse from its inception to its undertaking and completion ten years later…But Woolf’s story encompasses much more than a journey to the lighthouse. It includes a whole set of relationships—in a household of seven children and guests (74).

The novel suggests a journey progressing towards a terminal end. The fact that the journey of the novel is delayed until the end, is an indication that this is not a mere common journey. Bazargan and Downing add that “moreover, at the very center of the story is a hole—an absence—that interrupts the journey, denies its power to achieve control and unity, and gives form and meaning to what it leaves out” (74). The journey may be perceived as reconciliation where the father Mr. Ramsay reconciles with his children and passes his authority to his son James. This journey of reconciliation is an indirect reference to the traumatic life that the son James and his sister Cam lived with this callous father Mr. Ramsay. They are reconciled with him only at the end of the events, meanwhile Lily Briscoe the artist finishes the painting, she began the same day the journey was planned years before.

  1. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), portrays the fragmented world of England, following the impact of First World War. Eliot employs hysteria and psychological alienation of the English soul which resulted from war. In The Waste Land, England experiences horrors that have never been experienced before. These horrors are the consequences of the generational killing demon of war. In his book Double Talk: The Erotics of Male Literary Collaboration, Wayne Koestenbaum states that “The Waste Land is a portrait of hysteria over which two men brooded—a repetition, in verse, of Freud’s and Breuer’s 1895 experiment” (112). The extremely chaotic fragmented form, in which The Waste Land was written, is the first clear guide to readers that instructs them on how to read and understand the whole poem. Readers of the poem find themselves compelled to fill in the gabs so as to overcome the fragmented style of writing. However, this fragmented style is never overlooked in the poem as it is of a psychological significance. Hysteria and psychological alienation in T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, like Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse,  is not only a feminine disease or symptom, it is however a broader scale feeling that haunts English identity in general; males and females. As a result, the more readers try to overcome the disturbing fragmentation of the text, the more traumatic and psychologically injured they are. To understand the hysteria and psychological alienation of the poem, readers should put these starting lines in mind:

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain (The Waste Land I, 1-3).

“Memories and desires” are those of the English world before the war. Readers of The Waste Land desire to return to the innocent peaceful world before the war. These opening lines of the poem change the common well known facts of the human life, since it describes April as “the cruelest month”. The first section of the poem takes its title from the Anglican Burial Service.

                In the twentieth century marginal /waste land has increasingly become a mental condition that implies desolation and alienation, which in turn led to abandonment and degradation. This phenomenon is best conveyed in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, published in 1922. Seen alternately as the founding text of modernism or post modernism, the poem expresses a new and radical, even nihlistic state of mind, and an awareness of a historical change embodied in a mental waste land (Engler, 34)

  According to Engler, in “dead land”(3), “dull roots” (4), “dead trees” (23), “neither living nor dead” (40), “with a dead sound” (68),” where the dead men lost their bones” (116), “the lowest of the dead” (246), “a fortnight dead” (313), “who was living was now dead” (328), and  “dead mountain mouth” (339), Eliot uses images of death throughout the whole poem to indicate the psychological death of both the poet and his readers. This world of death represents a human experience of alienation and hysteria. Un-ended fragmentation, barrenness, death and alienation represent the sterility of the waste land of modern world and hint at a deeper psychological alienation.

    The Unreal City of Eliot’s The Waste Land, is according to Harold Bloom and Blake Hobby, a foggy city where Eliot “literally drags the unwilling asylum wastelanders out of the tranquilized fog that protects them—a fog that is forever “snowing down cold and white all over (7)… where they try to hide in forgetful snow, feeding/ A little life with dried tubers” (142). The city London is made unreal by the dark fog of winter. The crowd of the walking people is an image of their lost identity. They are not only alienated and psychologically lost, but they are also unidentifiable. They are subject to alienation; as “each man fixed his eyes before his feet” (The Waste Land, 65).

     Eliot goes further beyond describing London. He refers to the nature of modern life as a style of living for all survivals. It is a meaningless fragmented lonely life that leads to hysteria and suffering. The world of the poem is that of “heaps of broken images” (The Waste Land, 22), in which crops ceased to grow. The whole poem is about a decayed life with ruined hollow human values and spirits. Sybil, the symbol of the aging foolish woman who wished for immortal life without asking for youth and health, is a reference to the decline from power. Sybil is a woman of a tragic end, representing all women and all living people of modern world. After World War, people do not know do they have to wish an immortal life, or should they wait for death and accept their fate. Death is seen as a relief in the Waste Land, as it becomes more desirable than life itself.

   The second aspect of this paper is death by water in The Waste Land. Like Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Eliot’s poem employs water symbolically. There is a specific part in the poem entitled Death by Water IV, which portrays a man called Phlebas the Phoenician, who dies by drowning. Death by water is severe as sea creatures have cut Phlebas’ body as it is stated in the poem:

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell

And the profit and loss.

A current under sea

Picked his bones in whispers.

As he rose and fell

He passed the stages of his age and youth

Entering the whirlpool.

Gentile or Jew

O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

(The Waste Land, 312-321)

In his book The Waste Land: Bloom’s Guides Comprehensive Research and Study Guides, Harold Bloom describes this section entitled death by water, as “a reminder of death at the fulfillment of Madame Sosostris, warning at the first section…Eliot uses the death of the Phoenician sailor to remind us of death…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 pursuit Eliot has described” (46-47). The dead sailor Phlebas is a symbolic cautionary figure in the poem as he is a warning sign to anyone who still has a shining image of himself; anyone is liable to death at any age, even so young. Death by water is a short section in the poem that changes the common archetypal symbol of water. Water is mostly and commonly perceived as a symbol of survival since it is the source of life for all living beings, however, in The Waste Land, like To The Lighthouse, it is the symbol of death, alienation and lack of communication.

      The third aspect of this paper in T.S. Eliot’s poem is trauma as a ghost. Made up of five sections, The Waste Land focuses on trauma as a ghost and an echo of the hollow soul of modern man. The second part entitled

A Game of Chess, compares human beings to inanimate concrete pieces of chess. People of the waste land are desperate, they suffer from trauma, exactly like parts of a game. There is no communication between people, even men and women, and consequently there is no reproduction of mankind. It is not simply trauma; it is however sterility and barrenness. In his book Ethics and Trauma in Contemporary British Fiction, Ganteau states that “in The Waste Land, Eliot’s reference to the lack of belief in future regeneration in Britain in the second part of the poem and the images of desolation and decadence of London in the aftermath of the First World War form the conception of the world as a desolate and empty waste land harboring on future on future for the post war generation” (51).

   Ganteau adds that this feeling of desolation and trauma remains in the head of the Waste Land’s readers as “a physically and also psychically re-enactment of the accident; namely war. In

Burned green and orange, framed by the coloured stone,

In which sad light a carvéd dolphin swam.

Above the antique mantel was displayed

As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene

The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king

(A Game of Chess, 95-99)

there is a reference to the trauma and destruction a human soul experiences through the sense of loss as these lines are a reference to everything that the world has lost since the first World War, such as peace of mind, soldiers, buildings, youth and even women who did not practically participate in war. There is a sense of general loss and suffering in this part. Trauma is a ghost that faces modern people and appears every now and then, reminding them of their futile current life.

   “My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.

“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.

  “What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?

“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

(A Game of Chess, 111-113)

This scene is a typical reflection of female hysteria. Hysteria was considered mainly common and chronic among women. In this scene T.S. Eliot represents hysteria as a ghost that chases an insane woman. The passage conveys a sense of loss and fragmentation, not only hysteria. This insane woman symbolizes melancholic mothers and mistresses who have lost their partners and lovers in war. They are now free of emotions and feelings: “I think we are in rats’ alley/ where the dead men lost their bones” (114-115). This image is a reference to World War First; the dead soldiers are buried in the rats’ alley, as a symbol of decay and rot.

       The journey of self-recognition in The Waste Land, is a journey of realization and revelation as well. Eliot tries through his poem to indirectly undergo a journey of self-discovery and regain through getting back onec more to original beliefs. Eliot believes that everyone needs to be brought back to old beliefs. Modern  man has lost his beliefs in life and even in Christianity. In The Waste Land, Eliot structures his journey of self-realization and revelation. In “you know only/ a heap of broken images, where the sun beats/ and the dead tree gives no shelter” (I, 21-23), the common man who takes the journey of realization and revelation starts by expressing the gloomy degradation of himself for the time being. Then he starts to address other men directly saying that people of the waste land are living a socially meaningless life where each is self-absorbed as they walk where “each man fixed his eyes before his feet” ,(I, 65)

     There is a quest for psychological and spiritual recognition and reconciliation in the poem. The people of the waste land are experiencing the death of their spirits, and they try through their representative; their tongue, T.S. Eliot to regain and rediscover themselves once more. The absence of faith keeps these people of the waste land always attacked by a sense of insecurity and safety. This is evident in these lines, “I don’t find the Hanged man. Fear death by water. I see crowds of people, walking round in a ring (53-55), Madame Sosostris confesses that she can’t see the future. The only fact in people’s life; that is the insight of Madame Sosostris is now shaken and broken by war. People of the waste land resorted to a journey of self-recognition and beliefs’ regain. The dead tree together with a heap of broken images, are references to the spiritual death of the inhabitants of the waste land:

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock (I, 22-25)

The normal function of natural elements are reversed and changed. The tree does not provide shelter. This unexpected frightening sense of the waste-landers pushes them to search for their soul’s rebirth.

     The sense of loss is another recurrent theme in The Waste Land as the poem is about brokenness, fragmentation and destruction. War in the waste land is the direct cause of psychological social and emotional collapse. In

   The typist home at tea time, clears

Her breakfast, lights

Her stove, and lays out food in tins.

(Unreal City, 221-223)

the typist who represents the waste land, lives a mechanical life free of human spiritual feelings. She is the symbol of a fragmented life; life of loss and barrenness.

    After the torchlight red on sweaty faces

After the frosty silence in the gardens

After the agony in stony places

The shouting and the crying

Prison and palace and reverberation

Of thunder of spring over distant mountains

He who was living is now dead

We who were living are now dying

With a little patience ( V- What the Thunder Said, 322-330)

After all these things happening in the scene of the thunder, we who were alive are now dead. Death is more than a concept in the poem. It is the sense of loss. The lack of water in this part of the poem is a symbol of the lack of life and hence the sense of loss. This scene of the people who are “now dying” is a reminder of the crowd of people across London Bridge who walks like Zombies, suggesting their alienation and sense of loss.

     In her book T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land as a Place of Intercultural Exchanges, Roxana Birsanu describes the waste land saying:

 After the end of World War I, Europe still trying to heal the wounds of the conflagration, the Waste Land was trying to restore a lost unity. At the time Eliot was writing it, many countries were in the process of gaining their independence and, by so doing, of defining their identity. On the other hand, chaos was still imprinting its traces on the mentality of the world (197).

This vision of Roxana is represented in T.S. Eliot’s scene where he says: what are the root that the church, what branches grow/ out of this stony rubbish? (I, 19-20)

    The Waste Land is inhabited by people who suffer from spiritual loss and barrenness. This lost civilization can never produce anything meaningful. Even plants can’t grow in this land of loss. These people try to identify themselves through the journey of self-recognition mentioned before. Actually the five parts of Eliot’s poem deal with the same theme of loss and decay. The first section, The Burial of The Dead, reveals the demise of the modern man. Modern civilization is rootless and degraded. Modern man has lost faith also in moral and spiritual values where he says “I will show you fear in a handful of dust ( Waste Land, 30). In the second section of the poem, A Game of Chess, there is a sense of loss from another perspective. People are portrayed as machines, that lost their sexual desires and pleasure of life; “I think we are in rats’ alley” (Waste Land, 115). The Fire Sermon is the third section of the poem. It symbolizes the destroyed life of human beings with a desolate riverside scene: rubbish and rats surround the poet, who is fishing and “musing on the king my brother’s wreck”, (Waste Land, 191). The fourth part entitled Death by Water, is a typical presentation of the loss of human life itself. Water which is an archetypal symbol of survival and rescue is here reversed to be the symbol of death, drowning, and loss. There is no more re-birth for those people who die in the waste land: “Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead, forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep seas/ And swell the profit and loss”, (Waste Land, 311-313). The concluding section of the poem, What the Thunder Said, gives readers the impression of the futility of human life as “he was living is now dead” (Waste Land, 328). This is the ideal conclusion of such a foreboding poem. The poet asserts the assumption he supposes at the start of the poem where

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water (21-24).

  Trauma is best represented in literature as literary trauma in novels and poems shows the interplay between language, experience, place and human memory. Trauma as reflected in a literary work of art, employs the role of time and place to serve in enhancing trauma’s influence through metaphoric and symbolic means. Literary trauma is a work of fiction that shows a total loss together with a deep fear on all levels of life, (Anne Whitehead). In Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse 1927, and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land 1922, trauma is a life journey, real and metaphoric, which the characters experience once death is encountered. In both works, there is a human journey of self-recognition, sense of loss, trauma and hysteria, all of which are represented and symbolized in water as a source of death and barrenness. In both works, fragmentation is intellectual and spiritual, characterized by trauma, hysteria, and sense of loss in a quest of self -identification. Water changes its normal function, becoming, unexpectedly, a source of grief, death and a reminder of human pain; leading to trauma. In Woolf’s novel water is the symbol of a spiritual journey, which unfortunately proves to be a failure. Like Woolf’s novel, Eliot’s poem also presents water as a source of grief, death and drowning. It is through the use of symbols and images that both works share the same documentation of human suffering and traumatic feelings, in eternal literary texts.


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