The Wasteland – Section Notes: Part II ‘A Game of Chess’



This part of the poem opens with the description of a majestic and grandeur setting and we as readers learn of the story of Philomel which is one of the key scenes. It then progresses to a stanza of conversation between two individual (man and wife). The third stanza depicts lower class interactions with inserts of upper cased “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME”. The way this is set out could indicate a hierarchy of high to a lower class which reinforce the message Elliot is trying to convey (Past is better).



Motifs and Connotations:


·         “Those were pearls that were his eyes” Relates to the Part I: Burial of the Dead. This is a quote taken from Shakespeare’s Tempest. It suggests hope after death and how it’s not the end (Rebirth). By referring to the past parts of the poem, and also how this is taken from the past, it further reemphasises how Elliot feels about it. Constant reference to past plays, and sections.


·         “What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?” This line is taken from a play in the past which describes the irony in an action. In the attempt to kill, a life is saved in turn. Similarly, there are signs of an underlying message of hope despite the evident destruction and desolation of society.


·         “Where the dead men lost their bones.” This quotation could be interpreted as  either a sign of loss of vitality or virility. It further emphasises the constant  portrayal of the a monotonous and ritualistic society where men have loss the will to live. This also suggests loveless marriages due to the lack of passion and love.  


·         “I think we are in rats’ alley” This quotation is one of many that depicts the over theme of death and desolation in this poem. Rats alley suggests trenches which were dug in World War I which resulted in countless deaths.

Classical references

·         “Shakespeheaean Rag” Referring to a past emphasises Elliot’s message that the past was brighter. “Speheae” has connotations of cyclical which could suggest rebirth. Contrast between Shakespeare (great writer) and 20s Rag song which exemplifies the perversion and corruption that has taken place, also reflected in society. “O, O, O” is also a Shakespearen style of play, to reemphasise how good the past was. The word “Shakespeare” is fragmented.

·         In the first half our initial impression of awe at the grandeur of her bedroom and its surrounding is replaced by a feeling of deadness as readers realise the fact that despite all her wealth and luxury she leads an empty, vacuous existence. Reflection of society (we may be rich but it is meaningless without a fulfilling life.)




Desolation and Moral decay of society

·         It reflects the disillusionment and despair of the post World War I generation. The sterile, modern-day human society waits in dire distress for a revival or regeneration that may never come. Throughout this part, there is an evident display of the fragmentation of communication and the promiscuity and decay that is present in society. Classical references to the past not only serves to paint a brighter picture but also serves to underscore Eliot’s main theme - the quest for spiritual salvation or moral regeneration.

·         The gossips seen in part 3 would suggest vitality and vigour in the woman’s speech but readers realise that it is in fact an empty and hollow conversation. This further reflects on the degradation of society.




·         “…burnished throne” gives the impression of a majestic and glamorous setting. Elliot uses this to open this part of the poem to establish the order of importance.

·         “candle-flames” portrays a surreal and soft mood to indicate an almost magical period.

·         “…rats’ alley” depicts entrapment and is linked to WWI.

·         “…lidless eyes” could indicate ever hopeful and watchful but also unable to turn away from reality. 




In this section there are two main settings, the first, however being more indefinite than the second. The first main setting is in a room described using grand imagery. There is a sense of the surroundings being superficial and fake, as shown in the quotes “her strange synthetic perfumes” and “drowned the sense in odours”. The use of the word ‘drowned’ suggests the idea of the perfume being overpowering and trying to block out reality.


The second main setting is in an English pub and the characters are of the working class. This is more fragmented and shows the detachment between the various characters. There is a gossipy tone to the conversation therefore reinforcing the idea of superficiality.



Relation of Part to Whole:

In Part 2 of The Wasteland in contrast to part 1, the emphasis is more focused on the emotional and social wasteland rather than the environmental wasteland. This is shown by the fact that there are less frequent references to nature than were previously present in part 1. The main focus in this section of The Wasteland is on two particular dysfunctional relationships. The first concerning the woman on the throne and the second involving a troubled marriage between Lil and her husband Albert.  This emotional distance foreshadows the meaningless sexual relationship in part 3 between the typist and the clerk. There are also references back to part 1 and the theme of water, particularly referring back Shakespeare’s The Tempest in which an allusion is made “those are the pearls that were his eyes”.