This essay will argue
that fragmentation is a technique used quite frequently throughout modernist
literature. It will also discuss the instances of fragmentation within
modernist writing, along with examples of how it’s used and what effect it has
on the text and reader as well. The primary text being analysed in this essay
will be T.S Elliot’s The Waste Land, which in itself has many different
examples of fragmentation being used.
If one is to look at The
Waste Land, it can be seen that the poem itself is filled with examples of
fragmentation being used. One of the biggest examples of this is the fact that in
the poem itself there is a constant shift in perspectives. At the beginning of
it and throughout it as well the viewpoint of the poem is consistently
changing. It starts off with the weather, and then goes onto a madam’s
perspective. It often shifts without warning, and at times the writing itself
is fractured and very difficult to read. An example of this is the following:
is that noise?”
wind under the door.
is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”
know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
In the above example, one
can see the writing is fragmented and more difficult to read than other parts
of the poem. Throughout modernist texts one is constantly presented with fragmented
stories, this isn’t always in the same form but rather in diverse ways, whether
it be through an unreliable narrator or the attempt by an author to represent
the characters minds in the text. An example of this would be jumping back and
forth between time, people and their beliefs, which in doing so enables a far
more authentic way of representing the human mind.
Modernist literature is
also known for being more shocking than it’s predecessors, one example being
where Victorian texts would embrace more traditional values whereas modernist
texts would bring in new ways of telling the story, as well as being focused
more on the modern aspects of life such as cities and so forth. Modernism
breaks the mould; It brings new elements into play, even darker ones such as
pessimism and tragedy. An instance of this is where things don’t make sense, or
are miserable and in extreme cases the minds of characters themselves can be
If one were to look for a
good 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 unreliable
narrator and the story itself ends in tragedy. One primary example of this is
this quote: “I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that
it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of
maze. I cannot help it.”2 It can be argued that due
to this quote, the narrator himself is admitting his mind is fragmented due to
his unreliable narration and the story being likened to a maze.
The narrators mind being
fragmented, can be linked to another aspect of modernism which is the stream of
consciousness. This is the ability of the writer to be able to display a
characters 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 modernist
authors such as Virginia Woolf and T.S Eliot. One can see this technique being
used in The Waste Land, in the following quote:
when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
I was frightened. He said, Marie,
hold on tight. And down we went.”3
This quote is a very good
example of the stream of consciousness technique being used by T.S Eliot as it
shows the woman’s thoughts in the text as a constant narrative, just like how
she would be thinking in her own mind but for the reader to see as well. This
also plays into fragmentation yet again, because when we are swapped between
perspectives of characters it’s often without any warning and the reader is
left to figure the switch themselves which makes the poem so difficult to read.
Going back to The Waste
Land, as mentioned previously the poem is fragmented in the way that it changes
the perspectives from which the point of view is seen by the reader. An example
of this is the different sections the poem is split into and the viewpoints
which one is given:
night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.
III. The Fire Sermon
river’s tent is broken; the last fingers of leaf
and sink into the wet bank. The wind
the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.”4
The above quote
demonstrates a passage from the poem, where one section ends and then a new one
starts with a different line of story. The poem is deliberately fragmented as
to make it more obscure, which is helped by the shift in context from section
to section. The poem goes from being about a boudoir to the third section being
about rivers and England. In doing this, the author arguably is aiming to leave
the meaning of the poem for the reader to decide.
Another example of
fragmentation being used in the poem is the switch between languages being
spoken. In the poem, one can see German and Latin being used as well as
English. By fragmenting the language in the text, one is presented with a scene
where the characters in the poem are from different perspectives and do not
understand each other. The following quote is a good example:
surprised us, coming over the starnbergersee
a show of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.”5
In Modernism, there are
many other examples of fragmented works. If one were to investigate the context
of the times of modernism, they would find that a man named Charles Demuth was
a leader of the American movement for Modernism. He was a painter, and one of
his works “I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold” was based off a mans work called William
Carlos Williams, his work being called “The Great Figure”:
saw the figure 5
This quote from the poem
above shows yet another example of fragmentation being used in modernist texts.
Modernism is known to break away from the traditional boundaries before it, and
by making works like this the authors of them were doing just that. In a way it
was also more in keeping with the times, with things becoming more modern the
world was changing and with it so was the arts such as painting and literature
and so forth.
It can also be argued
that this following quote supports the argument that fragmentation is used in
the poem as demonstrated above: “His fragmentation of sentence and image is
obvious in “The Great Figure”, a poem which was interpreted in a painting by
Charles Demuth, his “I saw the Figure 5 in Gold” 1928, which was made in
association with Williams. By then, he was searching for the distinctively
‘American’ subject (along with Stieglitz, Demuth, and Hartley). His idea of the
new is firmly based in modernist techniques”.7
The idea of
fragmentation, both in The Waste Land and other modernist works comes in several
ways to the reader, one of which is the idea of civilisation itself being
fragmented. A lot of modernist works broke away from so called tradition to
form new materials, and The Waste Land is no different. It is set after the
first world war, and the poem details arguably how the world has become
fragmented since. The reader is presented with other languages, separate places
and different perspectives throughout the text and it can be argued that by
presenting the reader with all of this, T.S Eliot has created a world he
believes to be fact in the text.
Going back modernism in
general for a second, it can be argued there is further evidence to support the
idea that fragmentation is used regularly throughout it. The following quote
displays this: “I also demonstrate the fact that there is more to modernism
than meets the eye. The prevailing wisdom concerning modernism and
fragmentation (the ‘pattern’) is challenged in what follows. Ford, an advocate
and cultivator of key modernist techniques, both uses these techniques to
represent the fragmented experience and perception of modern life (in a text like
The Good Soldier) and counters them
(in what I call his positive fictions, like The
‘Half Moon’).” 8
By presenting the reader
with The Waste Land, it can be argued that T.S Eliot is showing the reader a
fragmented reality, where the world which was known before the first world war
is gone. This ties in to the rise of modernism, doing away with the old and
becoming something newer, an example being a phoenix rising from the ashes. T.S
Eliot knows that society as it was is gone, and by writing this text he is
showing the audience of it that the society that came before this has little to
no power due to how much the world has changed since.
It can be argued that the
following quote supports this idea: “Fords apprehension of abysses of chaos,
and Eliot’s apprehension of ruin, demand a reconstruction of rules or forms
within the new milieu which the writers perceive. Eliot’s climactic offering to
the debate, The Waste Land, of 1922,
was described by Ezra Pound as ‘the justification of the movement, of our modern
experiment since 1900.”9 The quote clearly
demonstrates that as an author, T.S Eliot understood modernism through his work
and was writing in a way that furthered the modernist movement with his use of
The following quote also
references 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. By
the mid to late 1920s, the nature of World War I was very well known and it’s
devastating consequences had been felt across an entire generation. Everything
had changed and had to change. The Waste
Land (1922), despite or perhaps alongside its misogyny and reactionary
class bias, grabbed hold of this feeling and represented it with appalling
The above quote supports
the argument that fragmentation is used in the text to express the authors
feelings on the war, as well as expressing the effects it had on society and
culture at the time of it being written. It furthers the idea that the technique
of fragmentation is used to perfectly capture a tumultuous period, in an
accurate manner relating to the times as they were in reality. The war was a
very important time in the world, especially when it came to the rise of
modernism; The war meant the world had changed forever and with it, modernism
was strengthened by the various cultural and political changes in the world at
The Waste Land, is a poem
that is riddled with fragmentation, a characteristic many modernist authors
used in their texts. It can be argued that they also used this technique
because it replicates how life really is seen by the modernist movement in
reality; It’s fast paced, all over the place and different for every single
person in various ways. Time itself fluctuates, culture changes significantly
and rather than being one voice, culture has now become fragmented, split up
into various different themes and versions. It can be argued that this is
demonstrated by the following quote:
“Le Prince d’Aquitaine a la tour abolie
fragments I have shored against my ruins”.11
The above quote can be
interpreted as the character in poem, or possibly T.S. Eliot himself being
stood on the shore with western culture, represented by the London Bridge,
falling apart all around him. These fragments are left scattered, almost as if
they serve to remind the reader of what used to be, they are unable to be
picked back up and are left as a sign of what was in the past. It’s a sad and
dark end to such a difficult poem, the close coming with the same fragmentation
used throughout the text even at the very end of it.
In conclusion, it can be
argued that this essay has effectively demonstrated the use of fragmentation in
modernism, as well as discussed the idea itself and how it was represented as
well as why it was utilised. In doing so, it has managed to justify the
argument that fragmentation is a technique used by various modernist authors.
The argument is further justified by the use of critical sources, as well as
other texts such as The Good Soldier and numerous examples throughout The Waste
Land 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), Line
117, 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), Line
13-17, Location 78.
4 T.S. Elliot, The Waste Land. Wisehouse Classics; 1 edition (22 Nov. 2016), Line
171-74, Location 483.
5 T.S. Elliot, The Waste Land. Wisehouse Classics; 1 edition (22 Nov. 2016), Line
8-12, Location 67.
William Carlos Williams, “The
Great Figure”. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/51549/the-great-figure. Accessed 11/1/18.
Christopher Butler, Page 39, Modernism: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press, 2010.
Sara Haslam, Page 2, Fragmenting modernism. Manchester
University Press, 19th July 2013.
Sara Haslam, Page 182, Fragmenting modernism. Manchester
University Press, 19th July 2013.
David Bradshaw, Page 133, A Concise Companion to Modernism. Wiley – Blackwell. 16th
11 T.S. Elliot, The Waste Land. Wisehouse Classics; 1 edition (22 Nov. 2016), Line
430-432, Location 1121.