T.S. Eliot wrote his most prominent poem The Hollow Men” after doing an analysis of life. The poet gained appreciation from lovers of poetry when it was first published in the year 1925. The poet illustrates many universal themes such as existentialism, spirituality and the human condition.
T. S. Eliot decides to divide the poem into five sections. In fact, he creates chapters and each chapter depicts a different theme; however, the main subject matter remains the same which is related to human existence. The poet uses the most common literary device of symbolism. He creates many symbols in the poem to convey his message. The poet also paints distinctive imagery in the form of words. Nonetheless, the poem does not follow any rhyming pattern.
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Summary Analysis of “The Hollow Men” Poem
The poet starts the poem while referring to Kurtz. He is a character from the novel “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. He dies alone in the forest. The poet discloses the primary theme of the poem while mentioning it at the start. In this way, the poem also shares some themes and symbols of “Heart of Darkness”. The epigraph has a direct connection with the “hollow men”.
As mentioned earlier, the poem has been divided into five sections. Here is a brief of every section.
In the first section of the poem, the poet introduces the primary theme of the poem. It also tells about the tone of the poet through which the readers get an idea about the complete poem. The poet uses the words “Hollow Men” which symbolise existence in the world without any purpose. In addition, the words “stuffed” and “shapeless” in the first section of the poem refer to the lack of individuality.
In the second section of the poem, the poet talks about spiritual emptiness. The men from the modern world lack spirituality. The entire section of the poem summarises the mindset of modern men. In fact, the poet creates an analysis of the dilemma of the modern world in this section of the poem “The Hollow Men”. In this world, there are many greater things including divinity and spirituality but hollow men do not realise it nor do they possess such types of feelings. Living a meaningless life is a concept that poet refers to in this section of the poem.
In the third section of the poem, the poet talks about the lack of senselessness in the modern world. The men are unable to see clearly the beauty of nature. There is no purpose for any person in the modern world. Greed has overpowered them and it has become a real motif for them. The poet compares two opposite things in this stanza.
In the fourth section of the poem, the poet talks about the negativity that is there in every person being a human being. Indeed, everyone has a dark image. Mostly, people want to hide it. The poet suggests that confronting the “shadow” with the soul is a difficult task for modern men as it reveals emptiness in them.
The last section of the poem is about the end of life. The poet believes in the eternal life that exists after this life. He imagines that the people of the modern world have forgotten their real purpose in life. They are busy grabbing material things whereas real life is entirely different from the emptiness.
Detail Analysis “The Hollow Men” Poem
If the poem is analyzed in detail then it is about the deepest fears that the modern world faces. The poet uses imagery which is highly imaginative. The poem’s richness lies in its symbols and imagery as well as complex and modern themes.
Section 1 Analysis
The speaker talks about hollow men. He uses the word “we” which indicates that he refers to everybody that exists in the world whereas “hollow men” symbolise emptiness. Words “stuffed men” on the other hand suggest the uselessness and lack of individuality. In other words, stuffed symbolizes materiality.
To exemplify, the teddy bears are stuffed with cotton which does not serve any purpose except shaping the body. It is the case with modern men. The image that the poet creates in the first stanza of the poem is highly symbolic. The poet talks about the sense of hopelessness, loss of pleasure and interest in things. Important word and phrases “headpiece” and “filled with straw,” refers to feelings of low self-worth and little motivation”.
The minds are not controlled by people but by external forces. No one has control over their feelings and emotions. People react instead of acting. In other words, they are victims of circumstances. Their plans and goals are not free but dependent on possibilities.
As far as communication between individuals in the modern world is concerned, the poet says that “our dried voices” are unable to communicate effectively. Even if there is communication, the same has no purpose at all as it is meaningless. The poet uses the allusion to “rats’ feet over broken glass” to suggest that men are living trapped environment.
In the first section of the poem, the theme of lack of spirituality prevails over every other theme of the poem. In addition, this section contains the theme of hopelessness. The mood of the poet is gloomy and he talks about a dilemma. It seems that the poet mourns a loss. The men are no more hopeful and motivated. Overall, the first section creates an imaginative picture of people from the modern world.
Section 2 Analysis of the poem “The Hollow Men”
The second section of the poem is full of images. There is a detailed description of lifeless places in this section. The words “dead land” are self-explanatory. The poet is of the view that the world is no more lively. In fact, he sketches a barren world in these lines of the poem. Besides, the phrase “The cactus land” has different symbols. The poet says that the world has become a place of harshness. Everyone is isolated, hence, living an individualistic life.
In addition, images of “stones” and “dry grass” indicate that people have lost in life as they have no meaning and purpose to live. To emphasize this theme, the poet uses the phrase “broken images” whereas “the eyes are not here” symbolises for lack of understanding and visionlessness.
Apart from that, the poet creates imagery of “twisted roots” which means the complexity of life. It also differentiates the past from the present. In addition to it, the poet compares the present with the future which seems disastrous. History is remembered for taking guidance but it is not used to solve modern problems, hence no guidance is being sought from it. The past has lost its connection with the future.
The poet also opines that language has lost its credibility. There is only the “sound of the water” and the “dry stone” which suggests that languages have become meaningless nowadays.
The second section of the poem continuously illustrates the theme of spiritual emptiness. The poet does not find any hope. Hence, he persists gloomy mood in this section of the poem.
Section 3 Analysis of the poem “The Hollow Men”
T.S. Eliot realises the beauty of nature. The world seems beautiful to him but the hollow men are unable to see the beauty around them. Once life had a purpose but now it had become purposeless. It seems that the poet sketches a complete human body in this poem and uses parts of the body as symbols. He shapes it from section to section. In this section of the poem, he focuses on the eyes. The speaker describes their “dry voices” and “violet” eyes, which are “fixed in a death-like stare.” It suggests that the men have lost their sense of purpose and direction.
In the next lines, the phrase “Shape without form, shade without colour” promotes the theme of existentialism; existing in a world which is not ideal and is shapeless. However, people do not do anything to find a solution. In fact, they are used to it. The “Paralyzed” word indicates that they are unable to change their conditions.
In order to clarify his subject matter, the poet uses the words “stone images”. He calls people “stones” because they are not doing anything. It seems that they are helpless and hopeless simultaneously. The poet paints an exact image to illustrate the thematic concept that is in his mind. Moreover, the “unreal city” exemplifies the theme of alienation. The poet says that these problems are there yet modern men are doing nothing to solve them as if they are statues.
Section 4 Analysis
The poet also wants to create an analysis of the innersole of the hollow men in this section of the poem. The idea of using the word “shadow” reflects that the poet wants to talk about the darker aspects. He talks about the psyche of modern men. Mostly, fears are self-created. Overthinking is one of the dominant problems of the modern world. The men generate problems from it and then fear their shadow.
Consciousness is another problem for modern men. The reference to the “rat’s feet” suggests that the shadow is a dark and malevolent force. It invades consciousness. “This is the way the world ends” on the opposite depicts the theme of hopelessness.
An allusion to “the whimper of a dog” reveals that the world is full of suffering and pain. Even the smallest and most vulnerable creatures are affected by the darkness and emptiness.
Section 5 Analysis
In the fifth and final section of the poem, the poet returns to the image of the hollow men’s eyes. He says that they are “not here before” and “not here after.” Again the poet talks about the lack of connection to the world around them.
An analysis of the reference to “the rose garden” in the poem suggests that the hollow men yearn for a sense of beauty and connection, but are unable to achieve it. The repetition of the phrase “Here, the stone images” creates a sense of stasis and inertia, reinforcing the sense of the hollow men’s spiritual emptiness and lack of purpose.
The final stanza of the poem introduces the image of the “lost kingdom,” which represents the hopelessness and despair that pervade the modern world. The reference to “the hollow valley” suggests that the world has become a desolate and lifeless place, stripped of all beauty and meaning.
The repetition of the phrase “Shape without form, shade without colour” reinforces the sense of spiritual emptiness that characterizes the hollow men and the modern world. The final line of the poem, “This is the way the world ends,” reinforces the sense of finality and hopelessness that pervades the entire poem.
In a nutshell, the fifth section of “The Hollow Men” brings together many of the themes and images that have been introduced throughout the poem. The repetition of certain phrases throughout the section helps to create a sense of unity and rhythm, while the stark imagery creates a vivid and unsettling mood. The final image of the “lost kingdom” and the repetition of the phrase “This is the way the world ends” leave the reader with a sense of existential despair and a bleak vision of the future.