Discussion Topic

Modernist elements in T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men."


"The Hollow Men" by T. S. Eliot features modernist elements such as fragmented structure, free verse, and a deep sense of disillusionment and despair. The poem reflects the chaos and uncertainty of the post-World War I era, emphasizing themes of existential angst and the loss of meaning. Eliot's use of allusions and symbolic imagery further enhances the modernist characteristics of the work.

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

"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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What typical modernist features are present in "The Hollow Men" by T. S. Eliot?

T. S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men" definitely exhibits the modernist characteristics of fragmentation, intertextuality, mistrust of authority, broken chronology, and stream of consciousness. Let’s look at some examples of how that happens.

First, we can notice right away how fragmented the poem is. It shifts perspective and imagery frequently, moving through disjointed scenes and from image to image in a way that appears random. Notions of death and disguise and emptiness are woven throughout, but the poem feels like a jumble.

This also suggests the stream of consciousness, at least in the parts of the poem that are in the first-person singular. The narrator speaks of death’s kingdom, sunlight, trees, and stars, shifting from image to image as rapidly as thought.

Intertextuality is especially noticeable at the end of the poem with the variation of the old song but also scriptural and liturgical allusions, like "For Thine is the Kingdom."

The mistrust of authority stands behind the poem, for the hollow men are usually interpreted as those of the lost generation between World War I and World War II. They are the ones who fought in the first war and were then desperately trying to find meaning in their lives. They were wondering if God's kingdom will indeed come or if their prayer would be heard.

Finally, there is little in the way of chronology in this poem. It does not tell a story that we can follow through time. Rather, it is a set of complex reflections.

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