Teaching the Sermon: Lyric, Narrative, and T. S. Eliot

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Virginia Tech


This thesis is an examination of the subsection of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land that is aptly named "The Fire Sermon." The hybrid nature of this famous poem makes it open to a variety of readings, and these readings are often conflicting. Thus, the work, in spite of being a seminal text in literature, can be difficult to teach due to the complexity of the piece itself. This fact makes choosing a pedagogical approach to teaching The Waste Land a challenge. With the goal of making Eliot's poem more explorable, this thesis will undertake the task of an examination of "The Fire Sermon" using two distinctive theories. The theories in question are the theory of the lyric, exemplified by Jonathan Culler's writing, and the theory of heteroglossia established by Mikhail Bakhtin. However, that analysis will be merely a stepping stone for a more strictly pedagogical question that this project seeks to answer. That question is, namely, the query of which branch of contemporary theory, narrative or lyric, is more apt to present the issues inherent in "The Fire Sermon" in an effective and teachable manner. Both positions have a number of positive attributes and elements that make them uniquely suited to the examination of Eliot's writing.



Literature, Poetry, Critical Theory, Narrative Theory, Pedagogy