What are the connections between Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Guy Fawkes' idea to blow up the Parliament, & the poem "The Hollow Men"?& How are the nursery rhymes/other fragmented allusions...

What are the connections between Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Guy Fawkes' idea to blow up the Parliament, & the poem "The Hollow Men"?

& How are the nursery rhymes/other fragmented allusions in pt5 effective in conveying the speaker's plight?

Expert Answers
MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I know it's long, but it's an excerpt from a paper I wrote many years ago. I've tried to bold the main points, but the supporting evidence is significant as well. Essentially, each of the epigraphs serves the function of underscoring the division in personality and emptiness of the "hollow men." The first refers to Joseph Conrad’s self-isolating Kurtz, who dies both physically and spiritually after removing himself from his cultural structure. In the same way, the hollow men have died in their own isolation.

This leads to the “old guy” in the second epigraph: an effigy, which reiterates the notion of hollowness and foreshadows “the stuffed men (ln 2).” This particular effigy is of Guy Fawkes, whose conspiracy plot led to his separation from society and eventual execution. This allusion, much like the previous reference to Heart of Darkness, grounds the text in a greater literary context, an attempt to withdraw the work from contemporary culture, and associate it with classical literature and history. The historical Guy Fawkes also connects to the “Shadow” of the last section. He exists as the discrepancy between his abilities and action. By naming his co-conspirators and thus foiling their plot, he became the force that halted his own momentum. The subjects of both epigraphs orchestrated their isolation; the narrator chooses to do the same here, consciously withdrawing from humanity and his audience through manipulation of verse and form.

This is also revealed in the structure of the fifth section. The exchange of “mulberry bush” with “prickly pear” defines yet another schism between the narrator and society. While humanity finds fertility in its interactions, he finds only desolation in his solitude. His reversion to childhood rhyme reveals another cyclical aspect: his nature has come full circle, forcing him from adult to child. Indeed, the “whimper” with which the world ends is a child-like cry. In addition, the verse subverts the rhyme which usually connects children to the traditions of this culture, symbolizing a rejection of cultural values. This is supported by the transition to regular meter, divided by bits of the Lord’s Prayer, once again exemplifying form as a representation of the fragmented self. Thus, this section reads as a conversation between two halves of one conscience. Yet there is even another level of division, as the Lord’s Prayer narrator speaks only in fragments, as in “For Thine is/ Life is/ For Thine is the” (ln 92-94). The deliberate interjection of these remnants of thoughts into the regular rhythm of the verses betrays the speaker’s ability to connect all elements of his conscience, if he so chooses.

The meter of the final section falsely builds up to this promise of unity. Standard cadence clashing with bits of scripture speeds the rhythm of each verse, yet there is no fulfillment. The structure of the entire poem functions in this way, swelling to a crescendo that never comes. Instead, the poem ends on a “whimper,” because the “Shadow” falls at the moment of climax.

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The Hollow Men

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