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MonkeyNotes-The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
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Major Character


The only one major character in Eliotís epic poem. The chief protagonist of The Waste Land is Tiresias, the blind prophet who figures prominently in Greek legend. The plot of The Waste Land, such as it is, is narrated by the "voices" of this hermaphroditic seer with his dual consciousness - masculine and feminine. Tiresias attempts to guide us through Eliotís poem, reminds us of the spirit of Virgil who leads Dante into the depths of hell in Danteís Divine Comedy.

Tiresias is not so much a character in The Waste Land, but rather a spectator to its episodes. He rarely participates in any action in the poem, while he comments on its events, places and personalities. Yet he is the most important personage in the poem uniting all the other characters who appear in cameo roles, what Tiresias "sees" and comments on, in fact, constitutes the substance of the poem, as Eliot himself remarked in his famous "Notes" appended to this poem.

This blind "visionary" synthesizes the complex thread of recollections and memories that haunt the consciousness of a wide gamut of disparate characters. Tiresias, as the ever present, all seeing commentator moves across time and space. He provides an insight into the dramatic experiences of all the other characters in the poem. Thus, he depicts for us the failure of human interaction and the tragic loss of most values - personal and societal, aesthetic and spiritual - in our modern world.

Minor Characters (in order of appearance/reference)

Part One

The Sibyl of Cumae

An old prophetess in Greek mythology - perhaps the most famous of all the ancient sibyls - She was granted immortality by Apollo without the benefit of perpetual youth and so she withered away into old age. She appears in the epigraph to the poem and longs only for death.

Countess Marie Larisch (lines 08-18)

A near relative of the mentally unstable king Ludwig of Austria. She was also confidante and niece of the Austrian Empress Elizabeth. She wrote her famous autobiography My Past (in 1913). Eliot seems to have met her in his travels through Europe before World War I broke out.

The Sailor Lad (lines 31-34 and line 42)

The reader hears him singing at four-line stanza about lost love from Act I of Wagnerís famed opera: Tristan und Isolde. A few lines later this sailor sings a line from Act III of the same opera, the dying as Tristan desperately awaits the arrival of his beloved Isolde.

Hyacinthus and his lover (lines 35 - 41)

A figure reminiscent of Hyacinthus, the handsome Spartan youth, beloved of the Gods. When he was accidentally killed by a wanton act of the Gods, the hyacinth flower grew from his blood. Eliot here seems to portray a couple of lovers whose passion for each other was earlier associated with an exchange of Hyacinths, but their love has now died out.

Madame Sosostris (lines 43-59)

An imaginary character created by Eliot. She is presented as a famous fortune-teller in contemporary London. She utters her fake predictions using the mystical deck of Tarot cards, so as to impress her gullible superstitious clientele who place undue faith in such questionable activity as reading the future.

The London Crowd (lines 60-69)

They belong to any modern urban metropolis, which Eliot refers to as the "Unreal City." They appear to be a set of London office workers going to work at morning in rather mechanical fashion.

Stetson (lines 69-76)

Sometimes taken to be a warrior in the famous battles between the Romans and the citizens of Carthage or else to be a soldier in the battle of Mylae in the First Punic Wars. Some critics also read him as a persona or mask for Ezra Pound whom, along with Eliot, read widely into the ancient classics and the stirring accounts of historic wars.

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MonkeyNotes-The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot


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