British Literature

Analysis of Hollow Men by Ts Eliot

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The Hollow Men, is a modernist poem which reflects T.S Eliot's concern for ethical values. The poem was published in 1927 and evokes depression of 1930s and sadness after the World War I which caused hardship for the people and resulted in violence. In other words, Hollow Men is a kind of poem which reflects Eliot's point of view about his time, the people in his time in general a sense of hopelessness and despair which was widespread in his time. The poem expresses a spiritual journey of Eliot's fellowmen towards a spiritual salvation from the despair. It consists of five parts, and in this paper each part will be studied on its own.
Mistah Kurtz-he dead.
A penny for the Old Guy
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rat's feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without color,
Paralyzed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other kingdom
Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

The poem starts with two epigraphs. First one is" Mistah Kurtz-he dead" is the quote from Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness. Kurtz signifies lost/ violent barbarian the prototypical "hollow man."
Second epigraph " A penny for the Old Guy" refers to the cry English children on Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes who planned to blow up houses of Parliament was hanged and burned. On the day of his execution (November 5) children make straw effigies of the guy and beg for pennies for fireworks.
Analysis of Part I: "We are the hollow men- We are the stuffed men" : We are seemingly stuffed but in the depth of our souls we are empty. The hollow men are Eliot's modern, empty corrupted man. "Leaning together/ Headpiece filled with straw": We are like Guy Fawkes effigy; our heads are filled with despair, delusions but empty at the core. The hollow men are like walking corpses whose minds are empty and detached from reality and life. They are alive but they are also experiencing death at the same time. The situation of them is like "life in death". They are lifeless without direction and hope of salvation. They have force but a paralyzed one so they can not get into action. "Those who have crossed with direct eyes, to death's other kingdom": In those lines Eliot mentions the dead, who have faced the death with direct eyes'. Direct' indicates the positive aspect of death. Eliot may refer to the idea of life in death for the hollow men. Hollow men can not really die they are in between life and death. "Remember us not as lost violent souls but as the hollow men": " Lost violent souls" may represent the two epigraphs- Mr. Kutz and Guy Fawkes they hope to be remembered as hollow men. Eliot probably hints that it is better to be lost violent souls that being "hollow" and "stuffed" man
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer -
Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom
Analysis of Part II: "Eyes I dare not meet in dreams in death's dream kingdom": In those lines the speaker fears facing the death the eyes of death even in his dreams. We, hollow men, can only encounter with the eyes' symbols like "sunlight on a broken column" which gives broken light "a tree" and "voices in the wind". All of these are perceived indirectly. To reach the direct eyes are more distant and more solemn than the fading star which represents remoteness from reality, especially spiritual reality. In short, he fears the meet with direct vision of death. "Let me be no nearer in death's dream kingdom": The speaker doesn't want to come any closer to death kingdom in other words he doesn't want to be near to death. He wants to be disguised among other hollow men. He wants to conceal himself and he wishes to "wear such deliberate disguises/rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves" and behave as the wind behaves. He tries to disguise himself among hollow men like a scarecrow with crossed staves. Crossed staves may be related to being stuffed with delusions and hopelessness.
III .This is the dead land
This is the cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
Analysis of Part III: In this part there is a representation the world hollow men live in. The narrator defines his world as waste land like desert which symbolize emptiness where "there is dead land, cactus land / Here the stone images" .Stone (lifeless) images of spiritual is meant here. It is a dead land like its inhabitants. Here the representation of the spiritual world and worship of hollow men (its inhabitants) are depicted. Dead worship and supplicate those stone images. "Under the twinkle of fading star" gives a remoteness from reality, life, spirit and naturally spiritual. The narrator wonders whether being death and this world is the same. "Death's other kingdom" is related with the world hollow men lives in other words Eliot's view of world at his time. Narrator fears the afterworld will be empty as this world. He will be awakening by lips praying to broken stones. The narrator fears also that whether death is lack of spiritual like this world. As it is mentioned before, the hollow men are searching for the salvation. Since they are in life in death, the speaker wonders whether salvation can be achieved by death.
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.
Analysis of Part IV: " The eyes are not here/ There are no eyes here" In this part the narrator become progressively indifferent to the eyes of dead in contrast to previous lines of the poem. The fading star in previous stanzas becomes "dying star". The darkness increases as the shadow of the death in the hollow valley of death emerges. "Gathered on this beach of the tumid river" is an allusion to Dante's Inferno, on the far side of the river there is Hell .They gather on the banks of the river to get to "death's other kingdom". Eliot uses the word "sightless" because without any eyes (eyes of death) they don't have any sight. However, "multifoliate rose", which is a symbol of paradise in Dante's Divine Comedy, is their hope for salvation. "Sightless unless the eyes reappear as the perpatual star/ Multifoliate rose" They will have sight again when the eyes reappear as the perpetual star and then as the multifoliate rose.
Here we go 'round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go 'round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existance
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
Analysis of Part V: "Here we go round the prickly pear/ At five o'clock in the morning": It is in fact a variation of a children's rhyme: "Here we go round the mulberry bush" substituting a prickly pear cactus for the mulberry bush. These lines may suggest the frustration and reality of the hollow men. At intervals the frustrating shadow of fear interferes in every effort to make potential become actual. "Shadow" must be isolating the hollow men, making their movement and feeling impossible. "For Thine is the Kingdom": This line is a part from the Bible is said to serve as a reminder that God will not accept any excuses for sin. Another interpretation can be exhausted, fearful hollow men recite Bible to strive for salvation. " This the way the world ends/ not with a bang but with a whimper:"">Life is very long This line is relevant to Guy Fawkes' plan to blow up the parliament. It suggests that the end will be with whimpers of fear of hollow men not with the bang of Guy Fawkes. The whimper may be caused from the longing for the salvation of their souls. In those lines, the tone of the poem is sad and hopeless about life and spiritual journey. The narrator thinks that the end will be not with a apocalyptic catastrophe as in the Bible but through mankind who allow themselves slowly decay, degrade, exhaust and be empty at the core.

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