Modernist Elements in the Hollow Men

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T.S.Eliot, The Hollow Men (95-98).
The end of The Hollow Men can only be the beginning of a deep and long reflection for thoughtful readers. T.S. Eliot, who always believed that in his end is his beginning, died and left his verse full of hidden messages to be understood, and codes to be deciphered. It is this complexity, which is at the heart of modernism as a literary movement, that makes of Eliot’s poetry very typically modernist. As Ezra Pound once famously stated, Eliot truly did “modernize himself”. Although his poetry was subject to important transformations over the course of his career, all of it is characterized by many unifying aspects typical of modernism. It employs characters who fit the modern man as described by Fitzgerald, Faulkner and others of the poet’s contemporaries. It is marked by its tendency to bring together the intellectual, the aesthetic and the emotional in a way that both condemns the past and honors it. The poet expressed modernism as a new system of thought that does not fully deny traditionality by using devices such as allusions to previous texts. In “The Tradition and the Individual Talent”, Eliot emphasizes the role of literary tradition viewing the best writers as those who have a sense of continuity with the writers before them, as if literature is one river in which each new writer must swim. He argued that the literary past must be used as to serve contemporary poetry purposes. This tendency, and many other attitudes that typify modernist writings, are present in Eliot’s works. This short paper intends to highlight some modernist elements in Eliot’s The Hollow Men as a poem representative of his new innovative poetry and of the spirit of modernism as a whole. I will look at how the poem reflects this newly new literary movement in terms of both thematic matter and style. This latter, of course, shouldn’t be viewed as constant for there is a permanent quest for a style that is best. However, before tackling the core of the subject matter, I find it useful to start with a brief presentation of some characteristics of modernism as a new system of thought and a new literary movement in American literature.

1.On “Modernism”:
In fact, it would not be modernist approach to try to look at modernism by way of definition. It would not also be fair to associate it only to the literary sphere. Modernism, as mentioned earlier, is a whole new way of thinking, a new worldview and a new view of man and the universe. The early twentieth century was a watershed in human history as it brought unprecedented political, social, economic and scientific transformations that shaped a modern world characterized by chaos, discontent, alienation and moral decay. Modernism embraced these changes and a new artistic representation was inevitable. Literature, especially poetry, became a place for carrying out the only meaningful activity, which is the search for meaning. Modernism announced the death of the author, redefined the reader-author relationship giving more importance to the reader’s interpretation of the writer’s ambiguous thematic elements. Furthermore, modernists believed that we create the world in the act of perceiving it. Modernist writing expressed a shift from realism into abstractions, as the abstract came to be seen as more expressive than the concrete. With its deliberate complexity and defamiliarization, modernist literature was marked by a strong and conscious break with conventional modes of form, resulting in fragmentation and bold, highly innovative experimentation in prose and poetry. To reflect the chaotic fragmented post-war world, modernists sought to use literary devices that were not only vehicles for carrying meaning but also meaningful entities themselves. The form and the content became equally...
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