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Date of Award
Master of Arts (M.A.)
First Committee Member
Louis H. Leiter[?]
Second Committee Member
This essay demonstrates how three popular writers of the twentieth century have created novels that contain echoes of Eliot's poem. They are F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925), Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926), and John Steinbeck's To a God Unknown (1933). I chose these particular novels because they exemplify widely different and distinctive echoes of the poem. Fitzgerald's use of waste land imagery is readily perceptible the most effective in defining and summing up the temper of the Jazz Age in America. Hemingway's borrowing lies principally in parallel characterization (Jake Barnes as he Fisher King is the outstanding example) and in depicting a morally and spiritually bankrupt world by showing that a satisfactory sexual relationship between man and woman is impossible. Steinbeck's borrowing is unique. HIs novel not only contains the Fisher King figure, desert land imagery, water motif, and the quest theme, but his protagonist, Joseph Wayne, like Eliot's Fisher King-Tiresias protagonist, is able to metamorphose from one "personage" into another. Steinbeck's borrowings are not used by him for the purpose of depicting the world of the Twenties, or any era. He may have done no more than build upon a piece of literature from the immediate past as Eliot had done from the more remote past when he created The Waste Land. There is also a possibility that Steinbeck disagrees with some of Eliot's philosophical ideas and playfully chides the poet for harboring them.
In showing the nfluence of the poem on three important American novelists, perhaps this essay will disprove Karl Shapiro's statement that "at no point in the career of Eliot has there been the slightest indication of literary following,"5 and will furnish proof that Robert E. Knoll's statement regarding the influence of The Waste Land is a valid one: What The Rape of the Lock was to the Augustans and Tintern Abbey to the Romantics, The Waste Land has become to the Moderns, It is inescapable.6
Elliott, Ruth. (1966). Echoes of Eliot's The waste land in three modern American novels. University of the Pacific, Thesis. https://scholarlycommons.pacific.edu/uop_etds/1621