"The Hollow Men" and Hopelessness
Whenever one lives in a world of godless despair, without religion nor salvation,
hopelessness in the world is bound to follow. Incorporating the literary techniques of
imagery, tone, and diction in his poem, “The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot creates the scene of
a world of hopelessness where the “hollow men” live with only the dream of religion and
salvation. The hopelessness is apparent throughout the entire poem, and is developed as
the theme of the poem with the use of the above mentioned literary techniques.
In order to convey the hopelessness of the world, Eliot utilizes the literary tool of
imagery, which serves the purpose to evoke the sense of hopelessness to the reader. The
imagery gives the reader a sense of death and decay. For example, in lines 5-10, Eliot
states, “Our dried voices, when / We whisper together / Are quiet and meaningless / As
wind in dry grass / Or rats’ feet over broken glass / In our dry cellar.” The vivid
description of the rats gives the reader a sense of death and decay, as rats are usually
symbolized as carrying the plague, which also evokes a sense of hopelessness.
Throughout the entire poem, Eliot carries out this element of imagery. Images of
hopelessness and despair are constructed throughout Eliot’s poem. For example, in lines
22-28, Eliot states, “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.” This section not only serves to build up images of small innocent children
swinging in the trees afar, but also illustrates how that is unattainable to these hollow men,
as they are “more distant...than a fading star.” Eliot conveyed the death, decay, and
hopelessness of the world, and the inability to escape it, through his use of imagery.
“The Hollow Men” also encompasses a very dark and gloomy tone. The
development of this tone is essential to convey the hopelessness of this world of godless
despair. Eliot mentions the land which the hollow men occupy to be as dead and
lonesome. “This is the dead land / This is cactus land” (39-40). By giving the land an
aura resembling death, Eliot successfully creates a tone which is dark and gloomy.
Cactuses usually give a feeling of gloom and loneliness, since cactuses, having sharp
edges, do not really attract many people. They are a sign of loneliness, so the land being
labeled as a “cactus land” serves to, not only develop a somber tone, but also one of
loneliness. Eliot also illustrates the loneliness in another line, furthering the development
of the tone—“Walking alone / At the hour when we are / Trembling with tenderness / Lips
that would kiss / Form prayers to broken stone” (47-51). Consequently, a tone of
desolation and gloom are created. Eliot, throughout the poem, continues the same tone.
“The eyes are not here / There are no eyes here / In this valley of dying stars,” (52-54) is
yet another example of the dark and desolate tone created in the poem. Thus, this dark
and desolate tone serves to convey the hopelessness of the world.
In order to develop tone, an author needs to take diction into account. Diction is
another of the many literary techniques used by Eliot. Utilizing dark and dismal diction,
Eliot is able to create a hopeless tone, and convey the hopelessness of the world, as well.
Words such as “meaningless...paralyzed...violent...dead...alone” all serve to convey the
hopelessness of society of godless despair. These words, in effect, all create an
atmosphere of death and hopelessness, which is essential for Eliot to express his attitude
towards the “hollow men.”
T.S. Eliot criticized the society which he lived in in “The Hollow Men.”
Throughout his poem, he illustrates the loss of humanity, and the death of society “not
with a bang but with a whimper.” The world which he paints is one of godless despair,
without religion or salvation. In order to convey the hopelessness of these “hollow men,”
Eliot utilizes imagery, tone and diction. Incorporating all of this, Eliot created a poem
which centered upon the hopelessness of society—a society of “hollow men.”
Essay written by Irfan.