The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot: Critical Analysis

It is most logical to consider The Hollow Men (1925) immediately after 'The Waste Land' because it is the most nearly related to 'The Waste Land'. It is, in some ways, a continuation of the earlier poem and, in others, it marks a departure from its predecessor. Like 'The Waste Land' it should be regarded as a series of poems rather than as one single poem, most of which is made up out of the lines Ezra Pound deleted from The Waste Land.

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

The poem certainly bears a strong thematic resemblance to the waste land theme. 'The Hollow Men' is a meditation on the subject of human nature in this world and on the relationship of this world to another, the world of death, or eternity. The Hollow Men is also a new poem as regards its music and its final emotional significance.

The Hollow Men is remarkable for its music. The short lines, the faltering rhythms, the subdued, irregular rhymes help in producing a lamenting music regarding the condition of the Hollow Men. We are not told who they are, where they are or why they are in their present abode. They seem to be in a timeless region.

There is little hope of redemption for the Hollow Men as the poem ends with a 'whimper'. The word 'whimper' suggests the theme of rebirth. It is the first faint querulous sound which shows that a child is born and is alive. It is a sign of hope and salvation. The hope of salvation is present, although very faintly, for the Hollow Men, but there is little assurance that the hope of salvation will be accepted because the shadow prevents the Hollow Men from attaining the given salvation.

The hollow men wait for the final destruction because between now and then there is only an endless series of birth, death, and rebirth which is inescapable and which is, in itself, a waste land not only because it is inevitable, but because it offers no salvation from the wheel on which they turn. The eyes and the rose may well be symbols like the Holy Grail; a salvation sought but unattainable. The hollow men, like the knights of the Grail legends, quest for salvation, but because they are blind, spiritually and physically, they cannot find what they seek. The poem is, therefore, an impressive symbolic picture of an age without belief, without meaning and its tone is one of rankling despair.

In its images the poem seems to contain in epitome both what goes before and what is to come after. The opening images of the guys, the scarecrows tossing in the wind of the second section, the better compressed metaphor of "this broken jaw of our lost kingdoms" recalling 'the dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit' of 'The Waste Land', and the rewriting of the nursery rhyme, with the prickly pear in place of the mulberry bush are like samples of the images we find in such profusion in the Preludes, Gerontion and The Waste Land. But mingled with these are traditional poetic images of stars - 'a fading star' and 'the perpetual star' - of 'a tree swinging' and voices 'in the wind's singing' and of 'sunlight on a broken column.' These, with the Dantesque 'gathered on this beach of the timid river', and the unexpected introduction of religious symbol of the 'multifoliate rose' from The Divine Comedy point forward to the imagery of Ash Wednesday, and Four Quartets. And the use of these images as recurring symbols and of the potent word 'kingdom' to lead up to the broken petitions from the Lord's Prayer, anticipate the treatment of imagery in the later poems.

T. S. Eliot has provided two epigraphs for The Hollow Men 'Mistah Kurtz - he dead' and 'A Penny for the Old Guy'. The first epigraph shows a basic contrast and the second points to a basic resemblance with the Hollow Men. The Hollow Men are antithetic to Mistah Kurtz, but they resemble the 'Old Guy'. Mistah Kurtz, the hero of Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness is better than the Hollow Men because he is dead and they are deadened. There is a likeness between the Hollow Men and the 'Old Guy' or the effigy of Guy Fawkes because the latter is also a hollow man. The protagonist is, in fact, one of the stuffed dummies who symbolizes the condition of the sensitive part of humanity in the modern wasteland.

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Shrestha, Roma. "The Hollow Men by T. S. Eliot: Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 7 Sep. 2017,