Masters Thesis

The Role of Tiresias in T. S. Eliot's The Waste land

In this thesis, I seek to resolve the debate over Tiresias’s ability to unify The Waste Land by offering a new perspective—Tiresias as a Modernist Maypole. I propose that Tiresias’s inability to perfectly coalesce the different voices and themes within the poem is not due to an authorial failing but is instead an imperfect unification that may suggest a modernist view of unity. In short, the thesis focuses Tiresias in regards gender, prophecy, and mythology. This thesis argues that Tiresias fails to completely unify The Waste Land; nevertheless, it also maintains that he can, in fact, fuse the poem’s fragments in an unusual way. Tiresias allows for a nuanced view of the poem’s structure by suggesting incomplete connections hidden in the numerous vignettes. An image of a maypole can illustrate this modernist view of unity. A traditional maypole consists of a fixed pole that has ribbons or streamers extending down from the top, and the end of each ribbon is held by a person. Then, the people dance around the pole weaving the ribbons together. In contrast, a modernist maypole would lack some of these ribbons, and others may be frayed or torn. In The Waste Land, Tiresias is the stationary maypole; however, some of the ribbons connecting him to the other characters in the poem are either torn or missing. In true modernist fashion, the maypole, Tiresias, unifies the work by suggesting what it might have been.


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