T.S Eliot, The Hollow Men

Guy_Fawkes_by_Cruikshank

Guy Fawkes

The Hollow Men, by T.S. Eliot wrestles with themes such as emptiness, the after-life, and human existence, in a pessimistic view that can be seen throughout modernism. Even before the poem really starts there is an epigraph that says “A penny for Old Guy”. These words allude to a piece of outside knowledge (something that Eliot does a lot), and in this case it is Guy Fawkes. Every year in the U.K. they make straw dolls, which are supposed to represent Fawkes, that children then toss in a fire. It is this dismal look at straw dolls that sets up the beginning of the poem and overall theme. Eliot writes “we are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men”. The use of “hollow” and “stuffed” is interesting because normally these two words would be opposites but in the context of comparing real men to dolls they are in fact synonymous. In literal terms, the dolls are stuffed with “straw”, which begins the dry imagery seen throughout the poem, but figuratively, because the men are like dolls, they are devoid of life and purpose and thus hollow. Eliot then progresses the narrative with the use of “eyes” and “dreams”. He writes, “Eyes I dare not meet in dreams/ In death’s dream kingdom/ These do not appear”. Here, as in many other places in literature, T.S. Eliot may be referring to eyes to evoke images of God or at least some divine power. I interpreted

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T.S. Eliot

this line as: the speaker does not want to see the eyes because they bring death, and that is why they no longer appear once he is dead. These eyes could also be seen more widely, simply meaning judgment. The eyes of God appear in other literary works such as the Great Gatsby meaning this same thing. Eliot continues to use dry imagery with the “dead Land” and the “cactus land”, when describing an in between point between what I took to be heaven and hell. “The eyes do not appear” in that in between land, that “valley of dying stars”, perhaps because there is nothing to judge. The “hollow Valley” is filled with “hollow men”, but what this means only becomes truly clear in the last section. Elio t lists being between many things like the Idea and reality, and the motion and the act, among others. Because of this I drew the conclusion that the mean are hollow because they have not done anything with their lives, and because they are stuck between thinking and doing they are stuck between life and death, or hell and heaven. All of these themes tie together with the last line “This is the way the world ends/ Not with a bang but a whimper.”, meaning that what we don’t do is so much more detrimental than what we do do.

 

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