Emptiness in The Hollow Men

Powerful Essays
Emptiness in The Hollow Men

After Eliot had published The Waste Land, he felt as though he had not been able to fully convey the sense of desperation and emptiness in that work. Beginning with "Doris’s Dream Songs" and "Eyes I Last Saw in Tears," he explored these themes, eventually uniting all such poems in The Hollow Men. The end product is a work that, unlike The Waste Land and its ultimate chance for redemption, has only the indelible emptiness of the hollow men as its conclusion. The hollow men are those who, in life, did not act on their beliefs; they resisted any action at all, and as a result stagnate eternally in "the Shadow," a land in between heaven and hell, completely isolated from both. Eliot’s allusions give a familiar literary and popular basis to the setting, while the symbols and lyrical progression convey the futility and spiritual "brokenness" of the men.

The poem’s initial epigraph, "Mistah Kurtz-- He dead" is the first of many allusions to Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness. Eliot uses the references to draw the reader’s attention to the moral situation of Kurtz and the others "who have crossed/ With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom." These men and Kurtz defined themselves through their actions, whether or not they were good. In Baudelaire’s words, "So far as we are human, what we do must be either evil or good; so far as we do evil or good, we are human; and it is better, in a paradoxical way, to do evil than to do nothing: at least, we exist" (Drew 94). An accurate description of the condition of the hollow men, this quote has also been used in criticism of Heart of Darkness. Thus the (spiritual) stagnation of the "tumid river" and those who wait beside it is contrasted with the dynamici...

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...ubmission to a world that ends "not with a bang but a whimper."

Works Cited

Brady, Ann Patrick. Lyricism in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot. London: Kennikat Press, 1978.

Drew, Elizabeth. T.S. Eliot: The Design of His Poetry. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1949.

Headings, Philip R.. T.S. Eliot, Revised Edition. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982.

Moody, A. David. The Cambridge Companion to T.S. Eliot. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1994.

Moody, A. David. T.S. Eliot, Poet. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1994.

Raine, Craig. "The Awful Daring of T.S. Eliot". The Guardian. 21. August 19, 1988.

Roessel, David. "Guy Fawkes Day and the Versailles Peace in ‘The Hollow Men’". English Language Notes, Sept. 1990. 52-58. Vol. 28.

Williamson, George. A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot. New York: Octagon Books, 1974.
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