Tiresias in The Waste Land: Central Figure and Interested Spectator of the Modern Waste Land

Introduction: Tiresias: The central figure: Tiresias, according to Eliot is the central figure in The Waste Land, an interested spectator of the modern waste land and, what Tiresias sees in the substance of the whole poem. The significance of Tiresias is complex and varied. Historically he is connected with the story of king Oedipus of Thebes, which is clearly and demonstrable the classical legend of a waste land, with striking resemblance to the drought infested, sin – ridden kingdom of the medieval Fisher King. 

Tiresias: Connection with king Oedipus and His Waste Land: The way the introduction of Tiresias serves complicates the unethical frame of the poem and universalizes its central significance by bringing home to us that the sin involved in the violation of the sublimity of sex has in all ages and countries led to decay and degeneration, and the necessity of purifying the sinner’s soul through suffering as the sole way to salvation. Oedipus unwittingly kills his father and marries his own mother and thus calls down upon his supposedly innocent heads the curse of the gods in the form of a virulent plague, epidemic and destruction, which neither king nor commoner fails to regard as a punishment for some dark and hidden crime. Tiresias, the blind prophet, is summoned and when compelled by the king tells the socking truth that he, the king himself, is the plague – spot. Such is the conspiracy of circumstances that the king is slowly, but irresistibly driven to the realization of this horrible truth. Nothing remains for the king but the duty of expiation, self mutilation, self exile, self-abasement and a prolonged penance, which eventually result in spiritual calm and inner illumination. 

Tiresias: A mythological figure: The symbolic significance of Tiresias is much greater. The true false about Tiresias as presented in The Wasteland are – (1) He was blind (2) He was bi – sexual and (3) He possessed the gift of prophecy and immortality. Various stories are given to account for these characteristics. According to one story, this wish, the soothsayer in his youth once saw the goddess Athena, bath naked in a pond. In great wrath the goddess struck him blind, but since his mother was a friend of hers, she bestowed upon him the gift of prophecy as compensation. In another story, Tiresias saw two sharks copulating and disturbed them with his stick, and the snakes in wrath transformed him into a woman. While doing so far the second time, he was again transformed into a man. Later on, calling woman more passionate, Juno was angry and stuck him blind but Zeus compensated him by conferring upon him the twin gift of prophecy and immortality. 

His symbolic significance: Tiresias is both of the past and present, and so a suitable connecting link between the waste lands of Oedipus and king Fisher, as well as between the past and present. He is bi – sexual with a fuller experience of life than any normal man or woman and his physical blindness is more than compensated for by his prophetic vision. He is the fittest symbol of human consciousness itself, the accumulated experience and knowledge of the race acquired during its long and devious passage through the immense stretch of time. He is the enlighten ghost of the age. Watching the depressing spectacle of modern humanity which has fallen from the ancient height and forgotten old values and sanctities, He is at once a relic of the past and inhabitant of the present, at once a prophet and detached spectator of the agonizing drama of contemporary history and a participator and fellow – sufferer, with a superior insight into the meaning of the ghostly masquerade, miscalled human life. Psychologically speaking, he is the nonsense of humanity, bashed and disowned by thoughtless men and woman, but still strong enough to pick the bubbles of their illusions, joys, hopes and fears. His is to the voice of sensitive humanity deploring the loss of spirituality in the modern world and probing in to the strange disease which it was, with criminal complacency, mistaken for health. His vision pieces through this veneer of complacency and lays bare the sordid cares and languid pursuits, the boredom and sheer vacuity, of which humanity in the modern waste land has fallen a prey. 

A connecting link: Tiresias thus is a complex and many – sided persona or symbol, and he provides whatever unity the poem may be discovered to have. But for his presence throughout, the poem would have become a phantasmagoria, a might mare, a medley of scene and meaningless snatches of talk, almost over whelming in it confused impression. Eliot himself has explicitly, through brief, stated the vital significance of Tiresias role in the poem. His is the critique the whole poem. 
Conclusion: “Tiresias although a mere spectator and not indeed a character, is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one – eyed merchant seller of currents melts into Phoenician sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand, Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias”. – T.S.Eliot.
Ref:1. Contemporary English Poetry: A. Thwaite
        2. Wikipedia