Last Updated on February 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485
The "Hollow Men," Past and Present
The poem describes men who are "hollow," or without any real agency. This idea of hollowness may refer to the people of Eliot’s day coming into the modern age having faced brutal wars and an increasingly faithless world. In the poem itself, the speaker seems to focus both on the men of the modern era who have lost themselves and analogous characters from both history and fiction who were, in a related sense, hollow men.
The hollow men of Eliot’s poem are essentially disembodied voices, a fact that complicates their status as characters in the conventional sense. It is never clear whether their descriptions of self or context are literal or metaphorical. The hollow men, in their lack of concrete reality and groundedness, take on a ghostly aspect that is in keeping with their liminal state.
"Mistah Kurtz," only alluded to in the epigraph, stands as a hollow man in his own right. Kurtz is a principal character in Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness; he is the most depraved man in a book filled with evil men who feel the need to harvest as much ivory from the Congo as possible and by any means necessary. Kurtz only realizes the fruitlessness of this endeavor on his deathbed.
"Old Guy" is a reference to Guy Fawkes, who wanted to destroy one of the Houses of Parliament in England during the infamous but ultimately failed Gunpowder Plot, which could have destroyed the British government and killed many innocent people. Having been characterized as a traitor and a villain ever since, Fawkes is often made into a literal stuffed, or “hollow,” man, and the effigy is burned on Guy Fawkes Day (or Bonfire Night) throughout the United Kingdom.
The Modern "Hollow" Man
The references to these men from history and literature help...
(The entire section contains 485 words.)
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