Pilgrim in the wasteland; Clarel as the confirmation of Melville's nihilistic vision



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T. S. Eliot and the wasteland, writers of the 1920's rebelled, against the vitiated. Romantic traditions which bore heavily on the literature of the early Twentieth Century. They recognized the anomie and ennui of a society which had lost its purpose and direction. Their attack centered on the crass materialism and the anaesthetic sentiments of that society, its sterility, the lack of love and charity, and the denial of tradition and religion, which were its hallmarks. In 1876, almost half a century before the publication of Eliot's The Waste Land. Herman Melville anticipated, not only their post facto attack on society, but also the metaphor in which they couched that attack, in his great and much-neglected work, Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Clarel is Melville's sociological and spiritual commentary on the headlong race to disaster which he, as pilgrim-poet, recognized in and attempted to Impress on the optimism and meliorism of nineteenth-century America. To convey his admonishment, he returned to the medieval aesthetic, creating a modern consolatio, which contains the confirmation of his nihilistic vision.