Study Guide

The Waste Land Tough-o-Meter

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(10) Mount Everest

There's just no getting around it; Eliot's "The Waste Land" is probably one of the toughest (if not the toughest) piece of literature you'll ever encounter (unless you try Finnegan's Wake). The range of Eliot's references, combined with Eliot's stubborn refusal to explain anything to you in clear terms, mean that you have to put in a ton of study time (with helpful study notes, wink wink) before this poem is going to start meaning something—anything—to you.

But rest assured, this poem is not difficult by accident, and it's not difficult just to be, well, difficult. Eliot wants it to be difficult because he is so sick of how the modern world tries to make everything in life so easy. iPods, microwaves, Google—as far as Eliot's concerned, these are all just things that make our brains weaker and weaker, even though we might think we're becoming more efficient.

In short, Eliot wants you not to understand this poem, at least not at first. He wants to frustrate you so much that you'll visit your local library and try to figure out what this poem means, and learn a bunch of rewarding stuff in the process. And if you snap this poem shut and say, "It's too hard; Eliot's a jerk," well then Eliot's more than happy to lose you as a reader. Make no mistake—dude's a huge snob. But he's only a snob because he still believes in the power of the human brain, and he has no time for people who waste that power on mindless entertainment and easy reading.

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