T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men Poem Analysis

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T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” creates a vivid microcosm of the proverbial Hour of Death. It embodies those who have come to the end of life without achieving divine fulfillment and who understand for the first time that it is too late to change the past. In various forms of consciousness, the men scrutinize their beings as they apprehensively await Death’s Judgment in their final moments.

Eliot’s poem begins with the word “hollow,” which suggests the first form of consciousness: The consciousness of self. It reflects the emptiness of a soul without faith and displays the consequences faithlessness can have on a man’s physicality – his Head, Voice, Form, and Eyes. The men “leaning together… gathered on this beach of the tumid river” with “Headpiece filled with straw” are distressed by the realization that they were not wise throughout their lifetime.

This implied indication shows that the figurative brainlessness inversely caused the men to rely merely on the temporal aspects of life which in turn created a “hollow” and “stuffed” persona. “Alas!” They are now slowly beginning to understand the severity that these immediate satisfactions will have on their eternity. They stand waiting in a “dead…cactus land” with “dry grass,” in their “dry cellar,” with their “dried voices.”

Who Wrote The Hollow Man

The macabre tone in which Eliot repeats the word “dry” helps to create the image of desolation in both the setting and the souls of the hollow men.

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These “dried voices” demonstrate the despair of the hollow men because their whispered words have become “quiet and meaningless.” They “grope together and avoid speech,” because they are now aware that their words no longer effect what seems to be an inescapable rendezvous with Death. This devastation reveals an even more convincing reality when Eliot contrasts the hollow men’s voices with the voices of those who have achieved divine fulfillment in “death’s other kingdom,” where they are in unison with “the wind’s singing.” This assessment exemplifies the difference between choosing a lifestyle of faithfulness or faithlessness and shows the outcome of both.

Eliot chooses to expand the disturbing effects of choosing the latter by exhibiting the hollow men as a “shape without form.” Because their earthly lives were consumed with meaningless execution, they have nothing to show for themselves now that their humanly elements are decaying. In a sense, Eliot is referring to these men as insignificant because they are “shade[s] without colour… gesture[s] without motion.” They are no longer in control of the direction into which they will fall, and this realization haunts them.

This haunting is illuminated when Eliot personifies those who have crossed into death’s other kingdom (those who have entered Heaven) as possessing ‘direct eyes.’ The hollow men hide from these eyes, ashamed, and wish to “dare not meet [them] in dreams” because they are reproachful eyes of judgment that make the men feel their own insufficiency and emptiness (Gardner 109). The hollow men explain that the faithful with direct eyes are like “Sunlight on a broken column/There” whereas “there are no eyes here… in this hollow valley… of our lost kingdom” (emphasis added).

It appears at this point of the hollow men’s assessment that they are hopeless; that death’s other kingdom is “more distant and more solemn than a fading star.” This brings to attention the second form of consciousness in which the hollow men utilize: The consciousness of meditation outside of self. They are aware of the deterioration of their Head, Voice, Form, and Eyes which accordingly causes a feeling of angst. The hollow men recognize that their Hour of Death is rapidly coming to an end and therefore want to “be no nearer in death’s dream kingdom.” At first, they suggest to “wear such deliberate disguises…Rat’s coat, crowskin… behaving as the wind behaves” for they feel that by masquerading themselves, Death will pass over them. This attempt, however, does not last long for they realize they cannot fool Death. In effect, they search for other means.

One could argue that this is properly the beginning of the hollow men’s movement to redemption; a recognition of the utter nullity of man by himself, of man in total exile from God (Hargrove 91). They are beginning to fathom for the first time that no amount of earthly pleading can reverse the inevitable outcome of doom. As a result, they turn to God in prayer.

They begin in a conversational attempt to plead with God by making an apology as they “form prayers of broken stone.” The hollow men have spent an existence without prayer and therefore, have difficulty expressing their plea for mercy. There is internal conflict that arises in the beseeching of prayer to God and consequently, it is interspersed with interruptions of individual thinking. It is as if the hollow men are uncertain as to whether or not they should even attempt prayer at this point because they remind themselves that salvation is hopeless because “The eyes are not here… There are no eyes here” to show them compassion

However, the unformed emotional wish for Christ reenters as the hollow men contradict their lack of eyes with a final new light of hope (Lucy 144). The fate of the hollow men is “Sightless, unless… The eyes reappear as the perpetual star Multifoliate rose” (emphasis added). In this instance, the eyes are transposed into those of the Virgin Mary (Jain 208). One could assume then, at this point, that the hollow men have given their soulless selves over to God, in hopes that these eyes have transformed into eyes of mercy.

In this last plea for forgiveness and hope, the hollow men reach the final moment of their lives – hence “Falls the Shadow”. All that is certain in the closing summary of the poem is this Shadow of sin, of imperfection, of the paralysis of the will that has led the hollow men to this point. (Jain 209) Intermingled in the mess of the Shadow’s imposition, the men cry out using the Lord’s Prayer, “For Thine is the Kingdom/For Thine is/Life is/For Thine is the,” continuing their request of forgiveness until the end. The line is suddenly cut off, though, showing an abrupt end to the hollow men and an uncertainty of their outcome.

The despair and the aspiration of the hollow men appear to have culminated only in a plaintive murmur, a whining, broken cry as they release their lives (Jain 211). The mystery, however, remains as to whom they have released their lives, for Eliot creates a sense of ambiguity by way of the allusion to the world’s end.

Some critics would argue that the hollow men have made a choice – that they could have achieved reality but were afraid and avoided it; they have chosen to make their habitation in ‘death’s dream kingdom,’ rather than in ‘death’s other kingdom.’ They have reverted to an afterlife that contains pain (Lucy 144.) On the other hand, other critics would say that the whimper, suggesting the cry of a baby, may be the utterance of one who is born into a new spiritual life (Jain 211).

Although both suggestions are plausible solutions to the conclusion of “The Hollow Men,” one could also argue that the poem’s denouement was purposefully excluded by Eliot – the reader does not know where the hollow men were taken: Heaven, Hell, or neither. This deliberate lack of resolution serves two purposes: to draw a parallel between the hollow men’s lack of discernment to their uncertain destiny and to serve as a warning to all human beings of the importance of leading a life of faith and direction.

At the time when T.S. Eliot wrote “The Hollow Men,” in the 1920s, he was unsure of where he fit in society. He was experiencing feelings of alienation from both England and France and was not sure to which denomination of faith he belonged. Thus, he was extremely conscious of the manner in which society presented itself. He saw a world of “stuffed men” filled with material obsessions and a lack of true direction. Consequently, he felt it necessary for all people, including himself, to understand the severity of life after death without steadfast faith (Gordon) This didactic essence of the poem reaches to many people and by the end, a sense of responsibility and fault is shared among the reader and the portrayed hollow men. The desolation resounding throughout the piece creates an unpleasant image that leaves an unappealing aftertaste few could enjoy. As a result, T.S. Eliot’s purpose was accomplished.

The “Hollow Men” is “pervaded by feelings of guilt, remorse and anguish, and by intensely personal experience which could not properly be articulated or resolved” (Jain 197). Nonetheless, it is certain that the purpose of T.S. Eliot’s poem should be contemplated. While it was within a lost society that Eliot found himself distressed, the message of this poem should not be taken lightly. From it, one can see the effects that the “hollowness” of life can have. Therefore, it is Eliot’s advice to learn from the hollow men’s error and seek a life that fulfills divine expectations.

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T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men Poem Analysis. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from http://paperap.com/paper-on-ts-eliots-hollow-men/

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