TS Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” is a revolutionary piece of poetry that embodies the post World War I zeitgeist. The post-war society was one of hopelessness and isolation. More and more people began to see the meaningless existence of human life and as a result, became desensitized to human emotion and existed in a state of limbo. Broken into only five stanzas, Eliot manages to capture the spirit of an age in “The Hollow Men.”
Immediately in the epigraph, Eliot makes a direct reference (from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) to “Mistah Kurtz,” a man who realizes the emptiness and futility of his life on his deathbed. By using contrasting diction and imagery, Eliot carries this sentiment of emptiness throughout the first stanza. The first stanza begins with “we are the hollow men” and “we are the stuffed men,” two extremely contrasting statements. Diction here is extremely important because the men are both empty and stuffed. This paradoxical statement illustrates the false sense of meaning men get from life rather than realizing the hollowness of humanity. Eliot then describes additional paradoxical phenomena such “shape without form” and “shade without color” to symbolize the souls that men are missing. Shade can’t truly exist without color just like men can’t truly exist without meaning. Imagery here further emphasizes the empty and hollow shells men truly are. Man is compared to a scarecrow whose head is “filled with straw” and whose dried voices are “quiet and meaningless.”
Much like the first stanza, the second stanza also utilizes strong imagery that continues to emphasize the meaningless existence of humanity. Eliot begins by saying that the hollow men see “eyes (they) dare not meet” in “death’s dream kingdom” because they’re so ashamed of their existence. Humans have always considered themselves a superior species because they rationalized instead of resorting to brute force like animals do. However, World War I shattered this illusion...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document