The Waste Land
by T.S. Eliot
The Waste Land Appearances Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line)
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants (209-210)
Eliot's connection of physical and moral ugliness reaches almost racist proportions in his description of the "Unshaven" merchant from Turkey. The fact that Mr. Eugenides also speaks in "demotic French" (212) is really the icing on the cake, because even though the word demotic in this instance probably means "popular," there's no way the demon connotations of this word were lost on Eliot. This scene further confirms Eliot's tendency to link his physical descriptions with moral judgments. But hey, the dude preaches compassion; so it's all good, right?
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest—
I too awaited the expected guest. (227-229)
Since he's a couple thousand years old and both man and woman at the same time, it makes sense that the blind prophet would have "wrinkled dugs." But it's strange that Eliot would give such an ugly characteristic to a character he actually seems to like more than any other one in the book. In this scene, then, you find that Eliot is capable of getting past people's looks and seeing them for what they are. In Tiresias' case, ugliness is not supposed to make us hate him, but make us pity him. After all, the poor guy's been forced to watch the total collapse of society for hundreds of years, and that's after he already knew it was going to happen. Bummer.
He, the young man carbuncular arrives,
A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire. (231-234)
Back to the basics, here. Among critics, the young man carbuncular is one of the most famous characters in this story, and not just because he's got a memorable name (though that's a big part of it). This pimple-faced goon is just about the lowest form of human life that Eliot can even force himself to write about. This young man's physical repulsiveness doesn't slow down his ego one bit, though. In fact, he's ridiculously self-assured, despite his appearance and his go-nowhere job. And if there's anything Eliot hates, it's arrogant people who've got absolutely nothing to back up their ego. If this young man were quiet and meek, Eliot might ask us to sympathize with him. But the guy's a bum, and Eliot makes an example of him when describing just how awful the modern world is.