How does the poem "The Hollow Men" fit the mindset of modern writers?

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rmhope's profile pic

rmhope | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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T. S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men" is consistent with Modernism both thematically and stylistically. Thematically, it conveys the alienation, fragmentation of thought, and disillusionment so common in modern works. Alienation, or emotional isolation in relationships, comes through in the lines: "Alas! Our dried voices, when we whisper together are quiet and meaningless," "eyes I dare not meet in dreams," "let me also wear such deliberate disguises," and "we grope together and avoid speech." Fragmentation of thought is revealed especially in section V where portions of the Lord's prayer interrupt the stanzas, and the penultimate stanza consists of unfinished thoughts: "For Thine is / Life is / For Thine is the." The poem communicates hopelessness by its harsh comparisons of men to scarecrows, life to death ("this is the dead land"), and Earth to a "hollow valley / this broken jaw of our lost kingdoms." The final stanza predicting the world ending with a whimper reflects the speaker's despair.

Stylistic techniques that reveal a Modernist approach are its experimentation with form, imagism, omission of explanations, and shifts in perspective and tone. The form of the poem is not traditional. Although there are rhymes at the ends of lines, there is no consistent rhyme scheme. Line and stanza lengths are variable, and much punctuation is missing. The poem, while not a true imagist work, nevertheless uses imagism in its various visual descriptions, especially the first four lines:

"We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men

Leaning together

Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!"

The poem lacks explanations, making it hard to follow and interpret. The meanings of terms like "death's dream kingdom" and many of the phrases in section V, such as "between the potency and the existence between the essence and the descent," are difficult to discern. This intentional obscurity is common in Modernist poetry.

Finally, shifts in perspective and tone are obvious in the final section. The italicized nursery rhyme seems completely out of tune with the previous serious and somber sections. The Lord's prayer, a petition of faith, is similarly out of sync with the despair of the other parts of the poem.

The pessimistic themes and the non-traditional style of "The Hollow Men," written in the mid-1920s, helped to set the standard for the Modernist poetry of the 20th century.

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lcassidy's profile pic

lcassidy | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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T.S. Elliot’s “The Hollow Men” is a poem about the emptiness of humanity. After reading the poem thoroughly, it is obvious that Elliot is commenting on humanity’s spiritual hollowness and failure of will.  He adds that we are devoid of spirituality where we are pushing away from God without thinking of the consequences.   This is a subject which many modern writers about.  

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