The Hollow Men

The two beginning lines reminded me vaguely of quotes. So after a quick search, I found that that is indeed what they were. The first epigraph is from Heart of Darkness. It describes the death of a man who’s sole purpose was to gain money anyway possible. His death is symbolic in that death awaits all, no matter how much money we have. The second epigraph is “A penny for the Old Guy.” Apparently this is a phrase kids say when begging for money to purchase fireworks in celebration of Guy Fawkes’s failed attempt to blow up Parliament. I don’t quite understand the purpose of this epigraph, but I believe it to stress the insincerity of younger generations. To celebrate the attempt to wreak havoc upon a country’s political system, youth in effect, recreate the bombings with their fireworks without considering the implications if the attempt were successful.

The imagery of “headpieces filled with straw” reminded me of a scarecrow, a fake man full of stuffing to ward off birds. This fake person represents modern people, the hollow men, and adds to the general gloom of the poem. The imagery of a “dead land”, a “cactus land” brings the memory, the dirty and bleak valley of ashes in The Great Gatsby. Both writers appear to be emphasizing the hollowness of modern day people, forgetting their heritage and their humanity while in search for wealth.

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2 thoughts on “The Hollow Men

  1. “A penny for the Old Guy” was quite an obscure reference, as “Old Guy” could apply to ~any~ old guy. But yes, he was an English Catholic who helped plan the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. This allusion certainly could hint at the insincerity of younger generations, but I do believe that they were celebrating the fact the King/Parliament members had survived. Interestingly, Fawkes is often called “the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions”, and that, I’d like to think, is why Eliot mentions him. Given that this poem is about the hollowness of modern people who wander around aimlessly, that Fawkes was set on this rebellion and gave up this life for his beliefs (I’m certainly not lauding his efforts here) starkly contrasts with the inactivity of us today. Perhaps Eliot is subtly implying that even Fawkes, with such horrible intentions, was better than us. At least we know that he, however flawed, is a human with desires and actions.

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