The Hollow Men by T S Eliot Questions and Answers
1. The Title.
[Q. Write a critical note on the title of the poem ‘The Hollow Men’.]
There is a good deal of presumptions about Eliot’s choice of The ‘Hollow Men’ as the title of his well-known poem, published in 1925. George Williams suggests that this title is a combination of William Morris’s poem ‘The Hollow Land’ and Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Broken Man’. It is quite possible that Eliot might have felt inclined to take the first expression from Morris and the second from Kipling. But there is also a strong suggestion that Eliot owes to Shakespeare for the entire title ‘the hollow men’. Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar (IV, ii) contains the following passage in which the term ‘hollow men’ occurs
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith; But Hollow men, like horses hot at hand, Make gallant show and promise of their mettle; But when they should endure the bloody spur, They fall their crests, and, like deceitful jades, Sink in the trial.
The contention is plausible enough.
But what matters more is the accuracy of the choice of the title- The Hollow Menin relation to the theme of the poem. How far the theme is found, aptly and adequately, represented by the title ‘The Hollow Men’.
The expression ‘the hollow men’ definitely forms the most dominant element in the entire poem. This is actually a sort of the song of the hollow men, who are presented powerfully, yet sarcastically by the poet.
As a matter of fact, ‘the hollow men’ literally indicate those men who are empty of substance. They are, no doubt existing, but rather as the very effigy of human beings, without any liveliness, action, intention or progress. Their existence is almost non-existent. This non-existent existence of the men are presented by Eliot in his song- ‘The Hollow Men’-rather in the poet’s presentation of the song of the hollow men.
‘The hollow men’ of Fliot are found to suffer from emotional vacuity as also spiritual sterility. They are almost nothing- enterprising nothing, aspiring after nothing. They only sit together and grope in whisper. Passivity and inaction dominate them and yearning for anything new or more to attain or gain is absent in their nature. Despair and pessimism, lack of initiative and energy, the loss of vision and hope make them almost effigies, static. They are not ‘violent souls’, like Conrad’s
hero Kurtz or the planner of the Gun-powder Plot, Guy Fawkes. Those evil persons had, at least, an intention, however evilsome that might be energetic enough to attempt and even suffer for their moral sins. But the hollow men are worse than those evil persons, for they remain in the middle, wavering, knowing nothing as to what they are to do. So, their end is not with any bang but rather in whimper.
This theme well indicates what sort of people Eliot tries to represent in his poem. They are the hollow men- the modern, urbanised people, who are like Prufrock,simply stay and do not try to advance in anyway, good or evil. Eliot’s title, in this perspective, seems to be sufficiently suggestive. His characters are the empty, barren of faith and conviction and zeal, hollow men. His theme is the utter non-existent existence of these hollow men of this waste land, this cactus land’. And his title is
The Hollow Men, no matter wherefrom this may be taken.
2. The Epigraphs.
[Q. Write a short critique on the Epigraphs of the poem ‘The Hollow Men’.
Bring out how are the epigraphs both like and unlike to Eliot’s hollow men.]
Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men is provided with two epigraphs, along with the title. The first epigraph Mistah Kurtz-he dead bears an analogy to Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. The words are said by Marlow, the narrator of the story, as he reports the death of Mistah Kurtz, the white man, who had exploited and cruelly treated the poor African natives. As an agent of a trading company of Europe in the remote interior, Kurtz had a notorious living in corrupt and cruel deeds. Ultimately, he died in immense suffering and pain. He was looked as evil personified by those who had dealing with him. The narrator Marlow even calls Kurtz “hollow at the core”.
The second epigraph “A Penny for the Old Guy” is related to a dreadful conspiracy, known as the Gun Powder Plot, made by Guy Fawkes, a fantic Catholic, in 1605. The dangerous plan was to blow up the Parliament with the king and his ministers, and thereby to capture power. Fortunately the King had a secret information of the plot. The possible disaster was averted and Guy Fawkes was arrested and subsequently executed on the charge of treason (). Guy Fawkes, since then, has been considered an evil power, and his effigy, too, burnt every year in the month of November. The effigy (stuffed with straw) is burnt ceremoniously to the accompaniment of fire-works. The expenses, incurred in this popular celebration, is collected through subscription by boys from door to door. Guy Fawkes, in popular
belief, was a violent Evil, to be destroyed. The expression ‘a penny for the Guy’ is related to this. Eliot’s epigraphs in his poem ‘The Hollow Men’, have a close link with the theme of his poem. One serves to point to a basic contrast and the other to a basic resemblance. Eliot’s hollow men are antithetical to Mistah Kurtz but quite alike the effigy of Guy Fawkes.
Both.Kurtz and Guy Fawkes are violent souls, criminals to the core. Yet both of them had initiative and stamina to sustain their evil acts and plans and boldly faced their cruel ends. But Eliot’s hollow men have neither energy nor determination to perform anything- good or evil. They are, as a result, not remembered at all, although those violent souls are
“Remember us- if at all- not as lost Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.”
After all, Kurtz and Guy were no hollow men.
Again, Eliot’s hollow men are antithetical to Mistah Kurtz. They lack his energy and power of action and sustained attachment to tyranny over the helpless natives for his personal selfish gain and power. They, with their dried voices and whisper and blurred vision, are quite unlike Kurtz. Kurtz, as reported, is dead in his sins, but they are, in their non-existent existence, is not alive but deadened, in a state of death in life.
Eliot’s hollow men are quite unlike Guy Fawkes, with his grim determination and dangerous plan of act to blow off the whole Parliament. But they resemble the effigy of Guy Fawkes, burnt ceremoniously in the memory of that dreadful day. That effigy, of course, is hollow, stuffed with useless materials to be burnt. Eliot’s hollow men are equally stuffed, without any vitality and vivacity. They are, no doubt, living but in a state of spiritual stagnancy and mental imbecility .
3. The Theme of The Hollow Men-Eliot’s Contentions.
[Q. Reproduce briefly Eliot’s contentions in his poem The Hollow Men.
The Hollow Men closely follows Eliot’s celebrated poem- The Waste Land. Originally it was intended to be a part of that bigger poem, but ultimately it was published separately in 1925.
The poet’s theme here, as in The Waste Land, is the metropolitan European life of the post-war time. As in The Waste Land, he is critical enough of this life-style,
its lack of faith and vision and its loss of energy and stimulation for action and advancement. Here, he represents such modern metropolitan men as the ‘Hollow Men’. Eliot expresses those men and exposes them through their own song, sung collectively and individually. Here the song has much resemblance to Tennyson’s ‘Chorus of the Lotos-eaters!
Eliot’s ‘hollow men’ are plain in their admission of what they actually are. This is struck in the first four lines of the poem :
We are the hollow men We are the stuffed men Leaning together
Headpeice filled with straw.
The same tone of the singers is continued all through the five sections of the poem. They are represented as men without hope and aim, without action and purpose. The contents of the poem are most negative and pessimistic in the range of Eliot’s poetic creations. In The Waste Land arid Ash Wednesday, there are some snatches of relief in the hope of redemption. The song of the hollow men, however, presents an unmitigated horror of modern metropolitan existence, unrelieved by the least ray of light or hope for the present or future.
In Eliot’s observation, the hollow men have the voice, but that is dry, almost unspoken and meaningless, and seems to be mere whispers which can be heard only by themselves. In their song, they characterise themselves as “shape without form”, “shade without colour”. They are `paralysed’ force that may have gestures but not motion.
Again, in Eliot’s description, the hollow men live in a dead land, a cactus land, where they pray with their dead hands some stone-images without any depth or faith:
This is the dead land
This is the cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
But this is not all. The hollow men are afraid of facing the hard facts of life and preferred to live in deliberate disguises, and to move with the trend of the time rather than with their own conviction and belief. In fact, in Eliot’s view, they are inferior to those ‘violent souls’ (like Mistah Kurtz and Guy Fawkes), who had an aim and acted to execute the same. Their objective was doubtlessly evil, but they looked at their affairs with straight eyes, without any evasion or excuse.
Naturally, the hollow men, as presented by Eliot, are wretched, helpless creatures, who are afraid of facing reality, not only in life but also in death. So they are afraid of the valley of death and prefer to dwell in their hollow valley. The poet does not expect for them any grand or memorable end. Their existence is rather non-existent and as such, their life is a kind of whimper, lost in fear and stagnation.
The conclusion of the poem is highly suggestive of the colourless sadist end of the hollow men, without happiness, without the least of hope
This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a whimper.
4. Note of Despair and Pessimism in The Hollow Men.
[Q. Eliot’s The Hollow Men is described as a song of unmitigated horror of modern life without any ray of hope and light. -Discuss critically with illustrations. Do you agree with the poet’s view?]
‘The Hollow Men’is found to follow the trend of thought of The Waste Land. The Waste Land is a presentation of modern metropolitan life, described sharply as a dead land, cactus-land. The land of the hollow men, too, is a dead land, a waste land, a barren, desolate country, reflecting the physical inability and spiritual sterility of the dwellers. The hollow men are shown devoid of faith and convictions and worship stone-idols, rather than their maker and saviour -Jesus Christ.
The hollow men prefer to remain ignorant to what is the hard reality and not to involve in any struggle. They have no straight eyes to find out and follow their way and achieve their own end. They rather choose to remain idle and inactive
In this last of meeting places We grope together And avoid speech Gathered on this beach of the tumid
They are also afraid of facing the reality of death and are contented with their empty life of emotional vacuity and spiritual sterility. Their progress is not possible, particularly as this is not desirable to them. They prefer to live in the shadow, in an inconclusive state rather than doing something that is to lead them to truth and life. Naturally, life seems to them very long and their prayer remains incomplete
For thine is
For Thine is the…
The incarnatory conclusion of the poem sums up the inglorious end of the hollow
men, not with a “bang but with a whimper” -the cry of helpless desperation.
Eliot’s view of modern life is sharply critical and somewhat overcritical. Of course, the situation in which the poem was written, at the time of the post-war (first World War) crises, on every front of life, that might have been a natural view of a thoughtful poet. But the view seems somewhat exaggerated and cannot be taken as acceptable, no doubt even in metropolitan life, as it is today. Admitting the lack of faith and conviction and the looseness of the morals in life and social depravity, it cannot be claimed that the poem represents a true account of modern metropolitan life. Action, thoughts and emotions of life are not lost. Progress is not at all halted. Life is advancing on all front. There is hardly any justification to give way to despair and dismay, for the prospects are nowhere bleak and progress is continuing without any respite. To take life in right earnestness, whatever the state may be, should be the motto of the right style of living. This is well-marked in present-day life all around.
5. The Concluding Part of the Poem- Section V
[Q. Write a short critical note on the concluding section of the poem The Hollow Men.]
The last section of the poem (section-V) has a totally different approach. It is a sort of incarnatory conclusion, a kind of ritual to conclude the lament of the hollow men. Going round the prickly pear, the hollow men sing a parody of the nursery song. They do not follow the gathering of nuts in spring but rather prickly pear, suggestive of their aimless, futile existence, as also of the hard fact that their end is not in gleam and glitter but rather in shadows and darkness.
The hollow men plainly present here their unblessed, unsettled, unhappy existence in stagnation and sterility. Of course, they have thoughts and ideas, plans and policies, conceptions and desires. But their situation is hostile. A shadow falls between what is their ideal and the actual reality, between their motion and action. Their act is not done, only reminding them of their admission to God’s grace- “For thine is the kingdom.” Between their conception and creation, between their emotion and response, a shadow ever falls to remind them how tough and long is the way of life. Their desire, their energy, their very existence remain unsettled in a world that is too hard for them to exist, yet too hard to leave. Naturally, there is no glorious, brilliant finale for their world that ends not with a bang but with a whimper
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
There is the incarnation of helpless despair and deep pessimism all around them and they are unable to find any way out.
[Q. Attempt a precise and illustrative assessment of the poem “The Hollow Men.”
6. An Assessment
Write a critical note on Eliot’s theme and technique in the poem “The Hollow Men.”]
Eliot’s The Hollow Men is a personal song of some group of persons, collectively and individually, on their own way of living. They call themselves ‘hollow men’, ‘stuffed men’, ‘leaning’, ‘headpiece filled with straw’. Their initial description bears out the nature of their existence and Eliot’s poem is a critical elaboration of the same.
Eliot’s subject of sharp criticism is the contemporary urban life under the yet continuing impact of the First World War. He presents this life as vapid (f), listless (*), bereft of the emotional depth or conviction. The song specifically brings out the pathos as well as filthiness of their situation as in the remark, straight and trenchant (তীব্র):
“Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grasses
Or rats’ feet over grass
In our dry cellar.”
Haunted with the fear of reality and death, their existence exposes how nonexistent they are without faith, conviction, desire and vision. The poet sums up their
inglorious end, with a sense of defeat and despair, ‘not with a bang but in a whimper’. Of course, Eliot’s contentions about modern urban life, as presented in the poem, is not free from counter contentions. There is found a good deal of exaggerations and speculations. The progress in modern living is spectacular, highly commendable and to dismiss this is a negation of truth and reality. Since Elict’s composition of the poem a long time has elapsed with rapid changes. After all, the change is the sign of progress and the old must give way to the new:
“The old order changeth yielding place to the new And God fulfills himself in many ways.
Lest one good should corrupt the whole.”
Setting aside all such controversies about Eliot’s theme, his technique need be well noted and judged. The Hollow Men is no easy poem and carries a good deal of serious contentual matters. At the same time, this bears technical skill and novelty, hardly to be equalled. The poem is a sort of silent soliloquy, with the effect of a
monotone and of a ritualistic chant. In the matter of diction and imagery, the poem stands out without the least blemish. A single instance is enough to justify the contention
We grope together And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river.
The recurrent images and the fragments of Lord’s prayer are well introduced to echo the religious tone of the poem- ‘For thine is the Kingdom.
The poem also bears out the symbolic technique of modern poetry. The eyesymbol is well exploited by the poet with the play on the various senses
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here.
The metrical balance is well held and maintained, though the sections are constituted of the irregular number of lines.