The Hollow Men by T.S. Elliot – Critical Analysis

A Critical Analysis of “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot

            Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) is regarded as one of the most influential poets of the 20th century.  He was born in the United States, but later moved to England in 1914 where he settled and became a renowned literary critic, poet and publisher. It was also here that he wrote “The Hollow Men” (1925) in which he explores overlapping themes ranging from his troubled marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood to post-war Europe after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Eliot relied on a unique presentation technique, one of the primary reasons why his poems continue to enjoy global success.  It is for this reason that “The Hollow Men” is considered one of the most remarkable poems in modern history.  The following is a critical analysis of one of “The Hollow Men” to gain a better understanding of the author’s expertise and technique.

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            In writing this particular poem, Eliot sought to communicate with the reader by relying on its highly evocative nature. From the very onset, the author sets a distressing tone to highlight the desolation he had witnessed. The sorrowful nature of his presentation is just but a depiction of Eliot’s perception of the world around him during the first half of the 20th century and the challenges faced in Europe. It also highlights the environment where it was published and the prevailing emotions during this particular period. Eliot clearly takes this opportunity to use imagery to underscore the flaws that are inherent in humanity particularly during this period in history. So much so, that his version of events create a sense of detachment and indifference in the reader. Eliot uses this technique to evoke feelings of hopelessness and the void he felt living in post-war Europe. For instance, he makes particular mention of death throughout his poem to inform the reader about the dire nature of his immediate environment:

 “Those who have crossed…to death’s other kingdom” (White, Thomas).

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Furthermore, he expertly chooses words such as dry, hollow and desert to create mental images of the situation as he saw it. He animates the dead and paints a picture of desperate individuals struggling to cross over to the afterlife. It is quite impressive that Eliot made a direct reference to the desperation encountered during this period and how individuals readily surrendered to death devoid of the fear of confronting it alone.

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            Eliot is also an expert in using his characters to communicate matters of thematic importance to his audience.  One such technique involved using an admixture if symbolism and the use of descriptive language to relate key elements of his narration. The hollow men are described as individuals in a sorry state of affairs who have nothing more to look forward to rather than the destruction that follows death. They have lost all hope and seem to suggest that redemption is just but a fleeting dream. Eliot harnesses the power of symbolism by referring to the mythical Holy Grail using roses and individual’s eyes (Gale). While the main characters were noble individuals, they displayed signs of spiritual ignorance which sidetracked them from their purpose in life. They eventually had no firm belief system, which also meant that their lost their core reason for being. The rat’s coat and crow skin were both used to underscore this reality as symbols of death that awaited every individual.  Additionally, Eliot relies on repetition in his poem to reinforce his message and ensure that they ultimately gain a firm understanding of the subject matter.

            Moreover, at the crux of “The Hollow Men” is an imitable focus on human nature and the relationships that individuals share. Eliot uses short irregular rhymes and rhythms to aid in the creation of a masterpiece the likes of which had never been seen in the world of poetry.  The protagonists reside in timeless abode, which further promotes the ominous nature of the poem. All in all, Eliot still reflects a glimmer of hope by suggesting that a rebirth is possible and individuals can still attain a level of salvation. One of the hollow men is patiently waiting for the final carnage owing to the fact that he has made peace with its inescapable nature in life. Nevertheless, salvation does not seem far back which is why hope still remains for individuals who are spiritually blind. This represents a new age where individuals have an additional option regarding how to deal with instances of despair in their lives.  The recurrence of these Dantesque figures and their gatherings seem to refer to contemporary life and how humanity is currently living in a modern wasteland.            

In conclusion, “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot was the author’s perspective on humanity and human nature. It focuses on the importance of forging lasting relationships and connection with one another. Eliot investigates the adverse effects of a lack of spiritual intention and ultimately reveals the suffering and torment the human soul is bound to go through.

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