Habit

In his discussion on Middleton’s The Changeling, Eliot writes, “But what constitutes the essence of the tragedy is something which has not been sufficiently remarked; it is the habituation of Beatrice to her sin; it becomes no longer sin but merely custom” (143). This quote really fascinated me, as I think it speaks to one of the more poignant parts of The Waste Land, which is, ironically, the sheer apathy of some of the characters. As it is perfectly conveyed in the image of sluggish commuters “walking round in a ring,” the wasteland is a place that is at once hellish and humdrum (Eliot 56) . The woman at the end of “A Game of Chess” talks openly of her crass seduction of Lil’s husband. The typist in “The Fire Sermon” responds to what very much looks like rape with the heartbreakingly emotionless “Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over” (Eliot 252). Her mechanical reaction is reinforced by her subsequently turning on the gramophone. It seems that to most everyone in the wasteland, everything, sin included, has been habitual, detached, inhuman. Interestingly, it is not until after the resurrection scene and subsequent return of rain in “What the Thunder Said” that there is any acknowledgment of wrongdoing:

Datta: What have we given?

My friend, blood shaking my heart

The awful daring of a moment’s surrender

Which an age of prudence can never retract (Eliot  401-4)

The realization comes quick, hopefully to awaken the emotionally comatose survivors of the wasteland.

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