This essay will arguethat fragmentation is a technique used quite frequently throughout modernistliterature. It will also discuss the instances of fragmentation withinmodernist writing, along with examples of how it’s used and what effect it hason the text and reader as well. The primary text being analysed in this essaywill be T.S Elliot’s The Waste Land, which in itself has many differentexamples of fragmentation being used.
If one is to look at TheWaste Land, it can be seen that the poem itself is filled with examples offragmentation being used. One of the biggest examples of this is the fact that inthe poem itself there is a constant shift in perspectives. At the beginning ofit and throughout it as well the viewpoint of the poem is consistentlychanging.
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It starts off with the weather, and then goes onto a madam’sperspective. It often shifts without warning, and at times the writing itselfis fractured and very difficult to read. An example of this is the following:””Whatis that noise?”Thewind under the door.”Whatis that noise now? What is the wind doing?”Nothingagain nothing.”Do”Youknow nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember”Nothing?””1In the above example, onecan see the writing is fragmented and more difficult to read than other partsof the poem. Throughout modernist texts one is constantly presented with fragmentedstories, this isn’t always in the same form but rather in diverse ways, whetherit be through an unreliable narrator or the attempt by an author to representthe characters minds in the text. An example of this would be jumping back andforth between time, people and their beliefs, which in doing so enables a farmore authentic way of representing the human mind.
Modernist literature isalso known for being more shocking than it’s predecessors, one example beingwhere Victorian texts would embrace more traditional values whereas modernisttexts would bring in new ways of telling the story, as well as being focusedmore on the modern aspects of life such as cities and so forth. Modernismbreaks the mould; It brings new elements into play, even darker ones such aspessimism and tragedy. An instance of this is where things don’t make sense, orare miserable and in extreme cases the minds of characters themselves can befragmented.If one were to look for agood example of this in another modernist text, they could turn to “The Good Soldier”,by Ford Madox Ford. In the book, one is presented with an extremely unreliablenarrator and the story itself ends in tragedy. One primary example of this isthis quote: “I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so thatit may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort ofmaze. I cannot help it.
“2 It can be argued that dueto this quote, the narrator himself is admitting his mind is fragmented due tohis unreliable narration and the story being likened to a maze.The narrators mind beingfragmented, can be linked to another aspect of modernism which is the stream ofconsciousness. This is the ability of the writer to be able to display acharacters emotions, thoughts and so forth but as a flow. The flow is constant;It isn’t interrupted by dialogue and it’s use was employed by major modernistauthors such as Virginia Woolf and T.S Eliot. One can see this technique beingused in The Waste Land, in the following quote:”Andwhen we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,Mycousin’s, he took me out on a sled,AndI was frightened. He said, Marie,Marie,hold on tight. And down we went.
“3This quote is a very goodexample of the stream of consciousness technique being used by T.S Eliot as itshows the woman’s thoughts in the text as a constant narrative, just like howshe would be thinking in her own mind but for the reader to see as well. Thisalso plays into fragmentation yet again, because when we are swapped betweenperspectives of characters it’s often without any warning and the reader isleft to figure the switch themselves which makes the poem so difficult to read.Going back to The WasteLand, as mentioned previously the poem is fragmented in the way that it changesthe perspectives from which the point of view is seen by the reader. An exampleof this is the different sections the poem is split into and the viewpointswhich one is given:”Goodnight, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.
III. The Fire SermonTheriver’s tent is broken; the last fingers of leafClutchand sink into the wet bank. The windCrossesthe brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.”4The above quotedemonstrates a passage from the poem, where one section ends and then a new onestarts with a different line of story. The poem is deliberately fragmented asto make it more obscure, which is helped by the shift in context from sectionto section. The poem goes from being about a boudoir to the third section beingabout rivers and England.
In doing this, the author arguably is aiming to leavethe meaning of the poem for the reader to decide. Another example offragmentation being used in the poem is the switch between languages beingspoken. In the poem, one can see German and Latin being used as well asEnglish. By fragmenting the language in the text, one is presented with a scenewhere the characters in the poem are from different perspectives and do notunderstand each other. The following quote is a good example: “Summersurprised us, coming over the starnbergerseeWitha show of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,Andwent on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,Anddrank coffee, and talked for an hour.Bingar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.”5In Modernism, there aremany other examples of fragmented works.
If one were to investigate the contextof the times of modernism, they would find that a man named Charles Demuth wasa leader of the American movement for Modernism. He was a painter, and one ofhis works “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold” was based off a mans work called WilliamCarlos Williams, his work being called “The Great Figure”:”Amongthe rainAndlightsIsaw the figure 5ingoldona redfiretruck”6This quote from the poemabove shows yet another example of fragmentation being used in modernist texts.Modernism is known to break away from the traditional boundaries before it, andby making works like this the authors of them were doing just that. In a way itwas also more in keeping with the times, with things becoming more modern theworld was changing and with it so was the arts such as painting and literatureand so forth.
It can also be arguedthat this following quote supports the argument that fragmentation is used inthe poem as demonstrated above: “His fragmentation of sentence and image isobvious in “The Great Figure”, a poem which was interpreted in a painting byCharles Demuth, his “I saw the Figure 5 in Gold” 1928, which was made inassociation with Williams. By then, he was searching for the distinctively’American’ subject (along with Stieglitz, Demuth, and Hartley). His idea of thenew is firmly based in modernist techniques”.7The idea offragmentation, both in The Waste Land and other modernist works comes in severalways to the reader, one of which is the idea of civilisation itself beingfragmented. A lot of modernist works broke away from so called tradition toform new materials, and The Waste Land is no different.
It is set after thefirst world war, and the poem details arguably how the world has becomefragmented since. The reader is presented with other languages, separate placesand different perspectives throughout the text and it can be argued that bypresenting the reader with all of this, T.S Eliot has created a world hebelieves to be fact in the text.Going back modernism ingeneral for a second, it can be argued there is further evidence to support theidea that fragmentation is used regularly throughout it. The following quotedisplays this: “I also demonstrate the fact that there is more to modernismthan meets the eye.
The prevailing wisdom concerning modernism andfragmentation (the ‘pattern’) is challenged in what follows. Ford, an advocateand cultivator of key modernist techniques, both uses these techniques torepresent the fragmented experience and perception of modern life (in a text likeThe Good Soldier) and counters them(in what I call his positive fictions, like The’Half Moon’).” 8By presenting the readerwith The Waste Land, it can be argued that T.S Eliot is showing the reader afragmented reality, where the world which was known before the first world waris gone. This ties in to the rise of modernism, doing away with the old andbecoming something newer, an example being a phoenix rising from the ashes. T.SEliot knows that society as it was is gone, and by writing this text he isshowing the audience of it that the society that came before this has little tono power due to how much the world has changed since. It can be argued that thefollowing quote supports this idea: “Fords apprehension of abysses of chaos,and Eliot’s apprehension of ruin, demand a reconstruction of rules or formswithin the new milieu which the writers perceive.
Eliot’s climactic offering tothe debate, The Waste Land, of 1922,was described by Ezra Pound as ‘the justification of the movement, of our modernexperiment since 1900.”9 The quote clearlydemonstrates that as an author, T.S Eliot understood modernism through his workand was writing in a way that furthered the modernist movement with his use offragmented text.The following quote alsoreferences the war, and how The Waste Land ties into it: “For the British, too,the concern with tragedy and the fragmentation of the past was overwhelming.
Bythe mid to late 1920s, the nature of World War I was very well known and it’sdevastating consequences had been felt across an entire generation. Everythinghad changed and had to change. The WasteLand (1922), despite or perhaps alongside its misogyny and reactionaryclass bias, grabbed hold of this feeling and represented it with appallingprecision.”10The above quote supportsthe argument that fragmentation is used in the text to express the authorsfeelings on the war, as well as expressing the effects it had on society andculture at the time of it being written.
It furthers the idea that the techniqueof fragmentation is used to perfectly capture a tumultuous period, in anaccurate manner relating to the times as they were in reality. The war was avery important time in the world, especially when it came to the rise ofmodernism; The war meant the world had changed forever and with it, modernismwas strengthened by the various cultural and political changes in the world atlarge.The Waste Land, is a poemthat is riddled with fragmentation, a characteristic many modernist authorsused in their texts. It can be argued that they also used this techniquebecause it replicates how life really is seen by the modernist movement inreality; It’s fast paced, all over the place and different for every singleperson in various ways. Time itself fluctuates, culture changes significantlyand rather than being one voice, culture has now become fragmented, split upinto various different themes and versions.
It can be argued that this isdemonstrated by the following quote:”Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolieThesefragments I have shored against my ruins”.11The above quote can beinterpreted as the character in poem, or possibly T.S. Eliot himself beingstood on the shore with western culture, represented by the London Bridge,falling apart all around him. These fragments are left scattered, almost as ifthey serve to remind the reader of what used to be, they are unable to bepicked back up and are left as a sign of what was in the past. It’s a sad anddark end to such a difficult poem, the close coming with the same fragmentationused throughout the text even at the very end of it. In conclusion, it can beargued that this essay has effectively demonstrated the use of fragmentation inmodernism, as well as discussed the idea itself and how it was represented aswell as why it was utilised.
In doing so, it has managed to justify theargument that fragmentation is a technique used by various modernist authors.The argument is further justified by the use of critical sources, as well asother texts such as The Good Soldier and numerous examples throughout The WasteLand itself, which were both written by very well renowned modernist authors. 1 T.S. Elliot, The Waste Land.
Wisehouse Classics; 1 edition (22 Nov. 2016), Line117, Location 342.2 Ford Madox Ford, Page 89, The Good Soldier, Kindle Edition.Published 16th May 2012. 3 T.S.
Elliot, The Waste Land. Wisehouse Classics; 1 edition (22 Nov. 2016), Line13-17, Location 78.
4 T.S. Elliot, The Waste Land.
Wisehouse Classics; 1 edition (22 Nov. 2016), Line171-74, Location 483.5 T.S. Elliot, The Waste Land.
Wisehouse Classics; 1 edition (22 Nov. 2016), Line8-12, Location 67.6William Carlos Williams, “TheGreat Figure”. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51549/the-great-figure. Accessed 11/1/18. 7Christopher Butler, Page 39, Modernism: a very short introduction.
Oxford University Press, 2010. 8Sara Haslam, Page 2, Fragmenting modernism. ManchesterUniversity Press, 19th July 2013. 9Sara Haslam, Page 182, Fragmenting modernism. ManchesterUniversity Press, 19th July 2013.
10David Bradshaw, Page 133, A Concise Companion to Modernism. Wiley – Blackwell. 16thJanuary 2008.11 T.S. Elliot, The Waste Land. Wisehouse Classics; 1 edition (22 Nov.
2016), Line430-432, Location 1121.