What are the modern elements in Eliot's "The Hollow Men"?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Hollow Men" by T. S. Eliot is representative of Modernist poetry in several ways. First, Modernist poetry tends to be shorter, more self-contained, and more open to interpretation than poetry from previous eras. "The Hollow Men" uses very short lines and breaks itself into relatively short sections. Because many elements in the poem are not clearly defined, it leaves room for interpretation about who "we" are, who "I" is, and what "this ... land" is. The last section especially could be interpreted many ways.

Second, Modernist poems often seem fragmentary or disjointed since they may not have a recognizable patterns or story progression. This is certainly the case with "The Hollow Men." Each section does not seem particularly related to the next, and in the last stanza, the fragments of a nursery rhyme mingle with fragments of the Lord's prayer which are interspersed with cryptic philosophical declarations.

Third, Modernist poems almost always prefer to leave a question rather than provide an answer. Although "The Hollow Men" ends with a firm declaration about how the world will end, what form that "whimper" will take is debatable. The question whether it is "like this in Death's other kingdom" is never answered, nor is any solution given for how to overcome the problems with modern life that "the hollow men" face.

Finally, Modernist poems reject traditional verse forms even as they reject objective truth--except as exhibited in concrete, definable objects from real life. Thus the Lord's prayer, formerly espoused by the majority of the population, now appears broken and impotent. Instead of men being made in the image of God with a stated purpose, men are empty yet stuffed.

"The Hollow Men," written in 1925, displays many characteristics of the Modernist movement, helping to define a new way of writing for the 20th century. 

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The Hollow Men

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