First read the poemWaste Land. But remember that we are readingWaste Landwith an eye towards comprehending not the whole of the poem's meaning but only one of its ideas or themes: the "idea" or "theme" of "woman in the twentieth century." Therefore, vitally important is that you first read my Module 12 Lecture and the Cowanarticle before reading the poem.
Next I'd like you to scan the poem for of its 5 major women characters:
The Women (talking) at the Bar
It has been said that all great literature -- i.e., all "classics" of "imperishable fame" -- work not by "blatant and obvious explication or explanation" but rather by "subtle and nuancedimplication" and "allusion," and in the case of T.S. Eliot's poetry, "allusion" is almost always an "allusion" BACK to a so-called dead (but not so dead) literary past.
Why does Eliot rely on allusions to the past?
Because, for Eliot, a civilization's abilities for mindfully (versus mindlessly) moving forward into the future depends first on its abilities for understanding the virtues and vices of its own dead (but not-so-dead) past.
Arguably the most important allusion inWaste Landcomes in the second section with the allusion to the ancient Greek myth of Philomelaor "Philomel."
Please refresh your memories with the myth before, after or during your engagement with this section of the poem, because one cannot understand the meaning (s) of Eliot's entire poem without first at least having some sense of the myth of Philomela-- which is an account one woman's violation but also her path to regeneration: metamorphosis.
Finally, in approximately 300 words, tell me what impression to you personally believe that Eliot intends to impress upon us with the images of his five central woman characters? (Note that Madame Sostrostisis pseudo-prophetess, a fortune teller of the future.) You can focus on one or a few or all of the characters at once, since, as Eliot reminds, inWaste Land, "all women are one woman."