The image to the left is by sive, and I thought it fit the poem incredibly well.
“Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.“
In describing T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” it’s hard to even decide where to begin. The poem opens with two allusions. One is to Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” which deals with the evils of colonialism in Africa. The other is, of course, to Guy Fawkes. These references set the dark and eerie tone of the poem, which describes a feeling of emptiness and superfluousness found in the narrator and his generation. The last stanza pairs religious references with the realization that life isn’t what it seems or what we’ve been told it is, but rather that we are caught in the middle of varying extremes. If Eliot knew how to whine, I’d assume that he was somewhat emo/gothy, but I think that his poem manages to capture an impression of emptiness paired with suspense in a way that not many poets can, especially if we consider that the two references at the beginning of the poem give one the idea that everyday individuals don’t and can’t really do much to change the larger political forces that shape their worlds. I would also point out that both references at the beginning of the poem were examples of times where the idea of religion was used as an excuse to justify violence.
Or, everything that I wrote could be absolute bullshit. This is a problem with interpreting not only poems, but literature as a whole. There are so many different ways of interpreting any given piece of writing and reading into it lots of things that the author never put there.
To be good at writing literary criticism necessitates turning bullshit into an art. I didn’t always think this, but then I started taking lit classes in undergrad and actually reading literary criticism. Some critics will decide that a presumably straight character in a novel is actually gay, and having a relationship with other characters, pointing to subtleties in the text to back up their “theory.” Another critic, whom I greatly enjoyed reading, wrote that Dostoevsky’s work was entirely about domination and submission. While a good part of this is true, I think that said critic was writing about his own unfulfilled fantasies. No, I’m not exaggerating. Mikhailovsky wrote a two-page analogy about wolves enjoying eating sheep to talk about Dostoevsky, saying that he “burrowed into the profoundest depths of the wolf’s soul, in search of subtle, complex things–not simple satisfaction of appetite, but sensual enjoyment of anger and cruelty.” And then there’s feminist literary criticism, which is rather easy to write… just find a female character and say something about society, and you’ve got a paper. Marxist literary criticism can be written simply by treating Marx’s word like fanatical Christians treat their Bibles. Freudian criticism is hilarious. You can say pretty much anything you want in the world of literary criticism if you can make up something intelligent-sounding to back up what you are saying. Now, where was I?
“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.“