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The Hollow Men Poem Analysis

The Hollow Men Poem


We are the hollow men, we are the stuffed men. The first verses of the poem indicate a contradiction that surprises us. Hollow means “having a cavity within”, implying the idea of `emptiness´. It also has a figurative meaning, that of “lacking real value or significance”. Stuffed, however, means “filled by packing things in (to the point of overflowing)”.


So now we appreciate the difference between the ideas of lack and abundance. But what do the hollow/stuffed men lack and what do they have in great quantities? If we look at line 4 (Headpiece filled with straw) we‟ll notice the author highlights this part of the body as the one `stuffed´, and considering the headpiece as the representation of the mind, we‟ll assume that these two verses have a symbolic, figurative meaning: the hollow men –who the speaker belongs to (We are)- are fulfilled with absurd, non-sense ideas and thoughts, causing them to be –in a contradiction in terms- empty and futile (let‟s look back at the second meaning of hollow).


Leaning together (line 3) works in the text as an adjective because of the absence of the verb `to be´. `To lean´ means “to incline or bend from a vertical position”. This indicates submission or even surrender (Alas!, line 4, expressing unhappiness and pity), and it might also mean that the hollow men are praying in their knees. This idea is supported by the following description of their voices: Our dried voices, when we whisper together are quiet and meaningless. Their voices are not dry but dried, connoting that they‟ve been dried by something or someone, but what or who? That‟s something we still ignore. When the hollow men in their leaning –praying- whisper together, in group, their voices have no sense, they don‟t even exist –another contradiction, can a voice be quiet?-, they‟re hollow, like the men themselves. In lines 8-10 the voices are compared with wind in dry grass or rat’s feet over broken glass in our dry cellar.

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In both cases, we could argue that wind `doesn‟t affect´ dry grass –if it were humid, the wind would dry it anyway- and rat‟s feet `aren`t affected´ by broken glass, because of their size. What‟s more, a cellar –a basement- is supposed to possess humidity, but it is dry, like the grass and the voices. This comparison greatly accentuates the `meaninglessness´ of the voices, which is, by generalisation, applicable to the men as well. The next stanza is configured by two verses. The first one is Shape without form, shade without colour. What may it mean? At first glance, we could say that, for instance, shape and form are synonyms and shape without form is another contradiction that confirms the previous ideas about the poem.


But the truth is that they‟ve got a slight difference in meaning: a shape is the visible, external form of something, whereas a form is the shape and structure of something as distinguished form its material or content. So, we‟re dealing with an element that can be distinguished by its external configuration but not by its inside. Shade without color has a similar meaning. A shade is a partial darkness caused when something covers the light, but it‟s without color, that is, it doesn‟t cause any visual sensation, it cannot be perceived. The whole verse gives us the idea of vanity and futility, as things can only be perceived indirectly through their external appearance. The second verse in this stanza is Paralyzed force, gesture without motion. Now we‟re not in front of a fact of perception, but of movement. It‟s supposed that a force is a mobile energy or power, but here it‟s paralyzed, and a gesture, which can be static or not, is obviously motionless.

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This verses emphasises the concept of paralysis and stasis: everything is hollow and the situation won‟t change. Furthermore, if we take into account both verses together, we obtain the image of a `dead corpse´: it‟s just something material, static, completely soul-lacking and absent of life. The last stanza makes reference to people apart from the hollow men (Those who have crossed with direct eyes, to death’s other kingdom remember us). In this sentence, the use of the present perfect instead of the present simple used so far gives us the idea of a past action recent in time, or even a remote action with a present consequence. It‟s said that they‟ve crossed –indicating movement- with direct eyes, to death’s other kingdom. Direct eyes do not hesitate, move or close, they‟re always staring at the same point without blinking.


Death’s other kingdom implies the existence of another reality belonging to death. So those either knew where they were going or they have simply not crossed to the beyond itself on their own, it seems that they‟ve had some kind of guidance to one of its `parallel worlds´; they‟ve been led. Those have a strong connection with us (the hollow men), as they remember them, they knew who they were, but if at all (line 16) -without necessity or just as a simple anecdote- the hollow, stuffed men are remembered by those as such, and not as lost, violent souls.

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