“What shall we ever do?” Entrapment and Alienation in TS Eliot’s The Waste Land

“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
 “I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
 “With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
“What shall we ever do?”
                         The hot water at ten.
And if it rains, a closed car at four.
And we shall play a game of chess,
Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

   TS Eliot’s The Waste Land has become a staple in the literary canon, and encompasses the Modernist melancholy that echoes throughout many 20th-Century works. It explores many complex and varied themes, but it’s exploration of entrapment in the two stories that form “II. A Game Of Chess” feel the most poignant to me.

    Out of the two character’s stories in this section, he woman in the first half of this section is particularly interesting. She surrounds herself with luxury; ivory, jewels, and even a throne. However, Eliot weaves in the idea that her decadent lifestyle masks her true emptiness. Her “synthetic perfumes” “drowned the sense in odour”; the artificial nature of the products she surrounds herself with are drowning her in superficiality- they replace real human connection and emphasise her emotional estrangement from her from her husband.

The woman and her husband are trapped in an unending routine. As the woman attempts to connect with her husband, pestering him with a series of questions to which he gives answers of no real depth; we become increasingly aware of the maddening routine that they experience. As the title suggests, it is a game. Instead of achieving any sense of union, this married couple routinely play out this disjointed game of question and answer (or lack thereof). The husband’s refusal to acknowledge his wife’s questioning maddens her to the point where she asks “what shall we ever do?”. To this his response is simple. He lists their regimented and dull daily routine, closing it with their “waiting for a knock at the door.” This reflects the struggle to find true meaning in modern life following dehumanising events such as war. People are struggling to connect with one another and therefore they try to find other, more artificial, ways to make their existence matter. However, as seen in the opening stanza of this section, this just becomes a way of alienating people further. They, and we as a collective, wait in anticipation for someone to “knock at the door” and break the routine, bringing a change in direction.

I’m sure that if you’ve gotten this far into my post, you’ve already read this poem, but just in case you want to read it again, go to: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/47311 – enjoy! 🙂 

 

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The Revival of Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in Trump’s America

Due to the upcoming release of The Handmaid’s Tale television show in the UK, I figured a good first post would be an analysis of the recent revival of The Handmaid’s Tale in the wake of recent political events.

Originally published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a dystopian society in which women’s rights have been stripped from them and they have been reduced to their primary reproductive functions. Now, over 30 years on, Margaret Atwood’s novel is experiencing a revival, soaring to the top of Amazon’s Bestsellers list. The most likely reason for this? Trump’s presidency.

The rise of Donald Trump to be111111come the 45th President of the United States has sparked worldwide controversy. His strictly conservative views and frequently sexist opinions have inspired a backlash from all genders that culminated in the Women’s March in January. Furthermore, consisting almost entirely of white males, the lack of diversity in Trump’s cabinet mirrors the cabinet of Ronald Reagan, who, coincidentally, was president at the time Atwood first wrote The Handmaid’s Tale.

One of Trump’s first acts of presidency was to restrict women’s reproductive rights with his anti-abortion bill. Frighteningly, this seems to mirror the issues raised in The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel concerned with reproductive rights and women’s autonomy over her own body. The dystopian future depicted in the novel may seem a far cry from Trump’s controversial anti-abortion policies, but Atwood herself claims that this is only the beginning; a “bubbling up” of ideologies that exist to oppress women. This is seen in The Handmaid’s Tale, where gender-based monetary restrictions evolve into nightmarish rituals that exist in Republic of Gilead; thus, Atwood’s own prediction of a “bubbling up” is haunting.

It seems like history is doomed to repeat itself, and, as Atwood herself states, she “did not put anything into the novel that human beings hadn’t actually done.” Her novel is based on historical violations of human rights. One example of this is the Ceausescu regime’s extreme pro-natalism and “birth promotion”. Ceausescu made pregnancy a strict policy for Romanian women. He outlawed abortion and contraception, and would have women questioned by state officials if they were unable to conceive. Sounds familiar, no?

In addition to this, Trump’s refusal to acknowledge climate change has also raised concerns. This, too, increases the topicality of The Handmaid’s Tale, as the environmental pollution is significant in the rise of the Republic of Gilead. The diseased and radioactive land due to “chemical and biological warfare stockpiles… toxic-waste disposal sites… and the uncontrolled use of chemical… sprays” (p.317) is at the root of the reproductive issues in women. The environment has had a detrimental effect on fertility, causing panic, which was then utilised by a totalitarian government to gain control; eventually leading to the classification and exploitation of women based on their fertility.

With the rise of the pro-life movement, climate change cynics, and anti-feminists that have been enabled and encouraged by Trump’s policies, it is no wonder that women are feeling anxious about their rights. The Handmaid’s Tale’s surge in readership is due to its enduring relevance. It can be viewed as a cautionary tale, prophesising a future that is possible if people like Trump prevail.

Thank you for reading an let me know what you think in the comments!

 

And for those that are interested… Further Reading:

Lozada, Carlos, “Donald Trump on Women, Sex, Marriage and Feminism”, Washington Post, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2015/08/05/donald-trump-on-women-sex-marriage-and-feminism/?utm_term=.cb4801faebc9

Sharman, Jon, “Margaret Atwood says rise of Trump has made The Handmaid’s Tale popular again”, Independent, at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/margaret-atwood-handmaids-tale-puritan-values-donald-trump-republican-party-abortion-a7575796.html

Atwood, Margaret, “For God and Gilead”, The Guardian, at https://www.theguardian.com/music/2003/mar/22/classicalmusicandopera.fiction

McGrath, Matt, “Trump’s ‘control-alt-delete’ on Climate Change Policy”, BBC, at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-38746608

So, here goes nothing…

I suppose the best way to begin my blog is to introduce myself. My name is Taylor and I am an English student living and studying in London, and I have decided to create a blog to hone my writing style as well as using it as a sort-of diary so that I can look back on this in the next weeks, months, or even years (!) and see how much I am changing and developing as a person and as a writer!

I’d love to be able to write a few literary- themed posts as well as any random/ interesting things that I feel warrant a blog post so I suppose this will be a bit of a mish-mash of styles and genres. I guess we’ll see what happens, right?

I doubt that anybody will ever read this but this is an entirely new experience for me so let me know how I’m doing in the comments!