The Hollow Men Analysis

In T.S Eliot's poem, "The Hollow Men", what is the meaning/analysis of the 4th and 5th sections? 

Thank you! I really appreciate it!

Expert Answers
Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

T. S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men" darkly portrays the stagnant moral state of the human condition.  The poem features "hollow men" whose exceedingly parched state is Eliot's metaphor for death and nothingness.  They wait in a limbo-like state, neither fit for Heaven or Hell.  Their existence is a meaningless void.

In the fourth section of the poem, the hollow man further describes the barren condition of his environment:

"The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley" (IV. 1-4)

Eliot's use of detail and imagery reveal the emptiness of the world that the poet has created.  The "hollow valley" really does seem like a vacuum to the reader, because the people do not see,  converse, or interact with one another.  Even with opportunity, the "last of meeting places," the hollow men avoid contact and and interaction. 

The fifth section of the poem descends into a dark parallel state; Eliot takes a classic nursery rhyme, "Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush" and twists it into a darker nuance of itself by substituting the word for mulberry with the word 'cactus.'  The resulting verses sound threatening and uncertain, and the 'cactus' reference harkens back the desert imagery of extreme dryness.   Moreover, a "Shadow" (with a capital 'S') corrupts the moment:

"Between the conception

And the creation

Between the emotion

And the response" (V.11-14)

which causes inaction for the hollow man, and through his inaction his existence fades into little more than a half-life.  Eliot uses the analogy of the hollow man as a metaphor for humanity, whose mistakes of inaction and general apathy lead to destruction.  The hollow man's song about the mulberry, or in his case "prickly pear" bush, forbiddingly predicts "how the world ends"--"not with a bang, but a whimper."  Basically, Eliot predicts that humanity's inability to act and the collective moral stagnation will lead to its ultimate destruction. 

Read the study guide:
The Hollow Men

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question