"Mistah Kurtz, he dead."1

"A penny for the old guy,"2

The Hollow Men
by T.S. Eliot

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 rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed 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.


1 - from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

2 - a reference to Guy Fawkes and Guy Fawkes Day, when straw effigies of Fawkes are burned.

(thank you to thyme for providing both the quotes and the material for these footnotes)

There seems to be some controversy over the way I have broken this poem up, so I'm going to make a slight attempt to explain why I have put each part in its own node. This is not the way I think every poem should be noded - in other words, it's not the standard for poems on E2. I would hope, to be honest, that there would never be such a standard. One of the main underlying themes of The Hollow Men is loneliness and isolation. For this reason and this reason alone I felt I should isolate each section from the others. This way, the reader is forced to take each section on its own, and further forced to slow down when reading it. That's it, really. I hope that settles the issue.

"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.

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