T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is a bleak look at the condition of mankind in the early 20th century. By looking at it through the lens of London, it’s possible to come to new conclusions, or at least different perspectives, about the poem. The fragmented nature of London is cohesive with the fragmented images and voices that Eliot uses to express modern consciousness. Also, by examining London and “The Waste Land” together, it is possible to observe the actual locations that Eliot refers to, such as St. Mary Woolnoth, King William Street, the City, and St. Magnus Martyr. The ability to physically experience the places gives the poem a new dimension.
The main theme of dehumanization in the poem is still relevant today. The machine of modernity still chugs ever-onward burning the same fuel. It is easy to see when walking the streets of London: masses piling onto the Tube– crammed so close, but never further away–, women avoiding eyes as they pass on the sidewalk, men staring blankly and looking back at their newspapers quickly. No one has time or the energy for interaction once they get locked into the monotonous cycle of existing.
Eliot was trying to break that cycle by revealing it. He showed the monotony that modern life can be. While he doesn’t offer an alternative, he does show the end result of living a life in that way. It is up to the individual to find out what there is to live for. The individual has to rise up above the nine-to-five’s and the race to beat the closing Tube doors. Otherwise, he will sink into a self-absorbed despondency and insanity. Once it is realized that the world is burning, then is it possible to get out of “The Waste Land.”