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The function and range of images in this important poetic work serve to highlight and explore the post-war malaise that characterised so much of life following the Great War of 1914-1918. The experience of the First World War, and the massive loss of life that it entailed, profoundly challenged the way in which people at the time thought of themselves and thought about their world, producing a sense of disillusionment that is captured perfectly in this poem. Note, for example, how the poem begins with the speaker identifying both himself and all others as "hollow men":
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
"Hollow men" creates an image of people without substance, who are only superficial, and lacking in any quality or depth. The voices of these figures are "quiet and meaningless," and the speaker goes on to describe these hollow men as being "Paralysed force, gesture without motion." The quality of passivity, of paralysis and the inability to move establishes a powerful picture of the plight of the Modern man, which is the recurring theme of so much of Eliot's poetic work. The ending of the poem, that suggests the world ends "not with bang but a whimper," cements the message of the poem that is created through the range of imagery employed: humanity is embarked on a slow decline towards meaninglessness, insignificance, and eventual obscurity.
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