Hollow Men Theme

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To a person living in a world completely devoid of religion, hope, and ultimately happiness, the only feelings left to him or her are despair, depression, and loneliness. In his 1925 poem “The Hollow Men”, T.S. Eliot uses literary devices such as allusion, setting, and symbol to produce this both awe-inducing and tragic image of these hopelessly lost souls so desperate for their visions—illusions, really—of dreams and a meaning behind their existence. This theme of hopelessness is conveyed through the above literary elements working in unison to display the completely dismal and hopeless world, which is the setting of the poem. The first poetic element Eliot introduces to create his image of hopelessness is allusion. Before the actual poem itself, Eliot has written the epigraph, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead./A penny for the Old Guy”. The first line of these refers to the character Kurtz of the novella Heart of Darkness. The character epitomizes the term of “evil genius”, who, for all his scheming to become like a God, ends up dying pitifully of sickness on a steamer. The second line refers to Guy Fawkes of the Gunpowder Plot (referenced also in other lines of the poem), where an attempt was made to blow up the Parliament building in honor of anarchy. The attempt, like Kurtz’s life, ended up fruitless—the plot was exposed and the conspirators executed. Both these allusions give references hinting at the poem’s theme even before the actual material of the poem itself is presented. Kurtz and Fawkes alike are famous for their ultimately failing grand plots they worked so hard for. Reminiscent of Kurtz’s last words (“The horror! The horror!”), Eliot’s poem reflects on the hopelessness and futility of life to those unable to ascend to Heaven. Using setting, Eliot effectively enhances the poem’s feeling of being lost in the dark and hopeless. In many sections of the poem
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