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The Hollow Men by T. S. Elliot

In The Hollow Men by T.S. Elliot, the poem explores the idea of a middle ground between heaven and hell and the human fear of being stuck in this meaningless shadow of existence. The development of characters in the poem demonstrate their lack of substance and independence while blindly existing an arid and infertile environment.

The occasional rhyme and repetition of The Hollow Men is set up by an epigraph quoting Heart of Darkness and referencing the execution of Guy Fawkes, both of which expressed the root evil of mankind. Both internally reference both hollowness and the burning of straw men, one of which is narrating the monologue-like poem. The imagery is bolstered by auditory descriptions, such as “wind in dry grass” and “rats’ feet over broken glass.” These indicate the infertile wasteland in which the hollow men are stuck, as well as the simple meaningless of their existence.

The descriptions of “shape without form, shade without color” leave an unsettling feeling of vagueness or a void of the hollow men’s impotence. In line 14 we also see the first mention of eyes, and a Kingdom. The “direct eyes” might be interpreted as those with substance who have reached one of the two meaningful ‘Kingdoms,’ meaning heaven and hell. However, these hollow men are stuck in “This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms,” the joint between two purposeful existences of good or evil, that is both something in between and also nothing.

At the beginning of section V, italics are used to quote an old nursery rhyme but replace mulberry bush with “the prickly pear” symbolizing the corruption and infertility of the “beach of the tumid river” where the hollow men reside. Another natural symbol is found in the stars mentioned sporadically throughout the poem. The stars are used to signify hope, as those who had their vision returned could see the “perpetual star,” (line 63) however the hollow men see only fading and dying stars. This “valley of dying stars” in a Modernist view seems to be the greatest fear and perhaps also the reality of mankind.

T.S. Elliot’s diction and syntax are used in conjunction most strongly in the final sections of the poems where he describes the “Shadow” that resides in the grey area between the idea and reality, the motion and the act. This in between area is the home of the hollow men, interdependent and without meaning they live out their days in a void lacking purpose, emotion and all goodness and evil.

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