Hollow Men T.S. Eliot Analysis
TS Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” is a revolutionary piece of poetry that embodies the post World War I zeitgeist. The post-war society was one of hopelessness and isolation. More and more people began to see the meaningless existence of human life and as a result, became desensitized to human emotion and existed in a state of limbo. Broken into only five stanzas, Eliot manages to capture the spirit of an age in “The Hollow Men. ” Immediately in the epigraph, Eliot makes a direct reference (from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) to “Mistah Kurtz,” a man who realizes the emptiness and futility of his ife on his deathbed.
By using contrasting diction and imagery, Eliot carries this sentiment of emptiness throughout the first stanza. The first stanza begins with “we are the hollow men” and “we are the stuffed men,” two extremely contrasting statements. Diction here is extremely important because the men are both empty and stuffed. This paradoxical statement illustrates the false sense of meaning men get from life rather than realizing the hollowness of humanity. Eliot then describes additional paradoxical phenomena such “shape without form” and “shade without olor” to symbolize the souls that men are missing.
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Shade can’t truly exist without color Just like men can’t truly exist without meaning. Imagery here further emphasizes the empty and hollow shells men truly are. Man is compared toa scarecrow whose head is “filled with straw’ and whose dried voices are “quiet and meaningless. ” Much like the first stanza, the second stanza also utilizes strong imagery that continues to emphasize the meaningless existence of humanity. Eliot begins by saying that the hollow men see “eyes (they) dare not meet” in “death’s dream ingdom” because theyre so ashamed of their existence.
Humans have always considered themselves a superior species because they rationalized instead of resorting to brute force like animals do. However, World War I shattered this illusion because it exposed humans for what they truly are: cruel and violent animals. In a sense, the war was the light that illuminated the reality of human nature, and as a result, civilization collapsed like a “broken column. ” This truth about human nature exposes the lack of meaningful “stuff’ in man. The image of the scarecrow “in a field” s once again presented because man is filled with meaningless illusions much like a scarecrow is filled with straw.
It is simply there to sustain the physical shape ofa scarecrow, nothing more. In addition, because these hollow men know the truth behind humanity, their illusion of human nobility, love, and hope are destroyed. Without this, these hollow men are stuck in purgatory, “no nearer” that “final meeting” of Judgment day because there is not enough substance to Judge these men on. The third and fourth stanzas continue to elaborate upon the desolate existence of hese hollow men in “the dead land. ” The utter emptiness inside these hollow men costs them the ability to love.
Their “lips that would kiss” instead form “prayers to broken stone. ” They are in such a state of frozenness and despair that they lose the ability to create meaning for themselves because they can’t love, they can’t feel, and they can’t live. They “grope together” in a “hollow valley,” desperate for something to emphasizes the dire mental state of humanity while the more concrete imagery created by concrete diction such as “broken stone” shows the physical brokenness nd resignation of humanity.
The motif of the “eye” also makes an appearance because it symbolizes both the ability for the hollow men to see the world again and the ability for the hollow men to regain their soul since “eye” is a direct word play with “l. ” Sadly, Eliot reiterates his point by claiming that the reappearance of the eye is the “hope only of empty men” because the “eye” or “l” never truly existed. The meaning and vitality that the hollow men are so desperate to regain never truly existed because it has always only existed as an illusion in man’s mind.
In the last stanza, Eliot takes on a much darker tone as he denounces humanity and everything it stands for. He claims that a shadow falls “between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act… etc” These pairings using the “between” is significant in that there is a direct start and finish relationship between them. An idea is a beginning that ends with the reality/implementation of that idea. Motion is a beginning that ends with the literal act. Conception is the beginning that ends with the creation of something.
However, the shadow that falls in between symbolizes a arkness that encroaches upon human activity and human life itself. Despite the idealistic belief that humans are a superior species, the dark shadow of human nature is and always will be present. Eliot goes even further by alluding toa prayer and therefore religion. He inserts, “For Thine is the kingdom” between paragraphs of “between” statements until the very end, when he no longer finishes the phrase. Every time the shadow falls, the prayer is inserted until the prayer is broken.
Syntactically, this is extremely significant because the unfinished phrases symbolize he futility of even religion compared to the all-encompassing shadow of human nature, and to some extent, all life. There is a shadow over the whole world because all life forms are essentially meaningless, not Just humanity. In the very end of the poem, the whole world ends “not with a bang but a whimper. ” By Juxtaposing this apocalyptic catastrophe with the nursery rhyme at the very beginning of the stanza, Eliot creates an eerie mood because there is almost a sense of dark humor in the tragic downfall of humanity.
Everything is distorted, chaotic, and not what it’s supposed to be. Even the rhyme itself is distorted because mulberry bush is replaced with “prickly pear,” a much more menacing object. Throughout the poem, Eliot uses a variety of stylistic elements to stress his message of human downfall. Overall, the syntax of the poem has very little punctuation to construct order much like the chaos of post World War l. The post World War I generation is a generation that has seen the truths behind humanity. Because of this heart breaking realization-the fact that humanity is meaningless because of its savage nature- people lost their sense of place.
Instead, they acted much like the hollow men do and existed in a world of decay. They lived in a lonely world where everything was grey and dry. There was literal loss in the war, but there was also despair over the loss of humanity much like the hollow men experiences. Because the postwar zeitgeist was one of despair, it’s understandable why Eliot takes on a resigned and somewhat cynical tone in “The Hollow Men. ” He writes about the vain hopes of men, but he ultimately ends the world with “a whimper. ” This indicates joke of an existence called humanity.