Essay on Emptiness in The Hollow Men

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Emptiness in The Hollow Men

After Eliot had published The Waste Land, he felt as though he had not been able to fully convey the sense of desperation and emptiness in that work. Beginning with "Doris’s Dream Songs" and "Eyes I Last Saw in Tears," he explored these themes, eventually uniting all such poems in The Hollow Men. The end product is a work that, unlike The Waste Land and its ultimate chance for redemption, has only the indelible emptiness of the hollow men as its conclusion. The hollow men are those who, in life, did not act on their beliefs; they resisted any action at all, and as a result stagnate eternally in "the Shadow," a land in between heaven and hell, completely isolated from both. Eliot’s allusions give a
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The horror!") and in the words of another ("Mistah Kurtz-- he dead"), yet the reader knows all that is necessary from both statements: the unspeakable evil of Kurtz himself and the finality of his demise. In death for the hollow men, who are "non-entities," however, the only certainty is that there is no certainty (Drew 96).

The Hollow Men’s second epigraph, "A penny for the Old Guy," applies more to the second half of the poem, with its links to Guy Fawkes’ Day in England. Fawkes is another Kurtz-like figure who acted on his beliefs, in this case in an attempt to bomb Parliament, or, in Eliot’s view, end the civilized world "with a bang." "A penny for the Old Guy" may mean that credit is due for those who act, even for "evil" (in quotations because Fawkes’ Catholic beliefs guided him, another reason for the Catholic Eliot to choose him as a symbol), as well as alluding to the schoolchild’s practice of begging for pennies to buy his effigy. This effigy is the "stuffed man" of the first stanza; each year they are burned on November fifth in a childish imitation of Fawkes’ plan. In a similar way the hollow men are but imitations, shadows of "real" men such as Fawkes, and his ritual burning is a trivialization of his act. As Philip
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