People often have trouble clearly stating their obscure emotions and ideas; therefore they associate and realize these ideas through other literature, cinematography, or music. In his dream-like “The Hollow Men” T. S. Eliot uses allusion as a vehicle for his purpose. The purpose seems elusive to the author himself. Therefore, he employs a reference to classic literature to show his reader a glimpse of what he really means through a more explicit analysis the human soul. This purpose is to survey the human as a product of the society and compare fundamental questions about human aspirations and the nature of the civilized society.
Both Eliot’s poem, and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness have particular tendencies in imagery and organization that portray a common theme of a rift between the belief of a society-influenced man, and the practice of a man at the level of his primal emotions. By selecting Heart of Darkness as a universal allusion in this poem, T. S. Eliot is able to promote his purpose though the themes and rhetoric of this novel. Conrad’s novel is an inward journey to discover what Freud would call the id. This is a level of subconcienceness completely uninfluenced by the world around the individual.
T. S. Eliot is trying to express the war-generated emotions and yearnings of his id through imagery, diction, and organization. T. S. Eliot hides beneath the cover of a larger work, which in its size can more clearly explore this purpose. “Mistah Kurtz – he dead” is the opening line of the poem. Eliot picks up where Joseph Conrad left off in his Heart of Darkness. Conrad looks into the idea of a man in his primal state (Kurtz) versus a man influenced by the society (the hypocritically clean central station manager, for example) in this novel.
Kurtz, an extremely intelligent man, becomes “hollowed out”. He degenerates to a level below basic human morals such as not killing and suppressing vanity and egotism. Perhaps Kurtz was able to think further then a regular human and analyze existence beyond the repercussions of the religion and moral based society. This analysis leads him to become ruthless and degenerate to his primal state. Yet, Kurtz cannot survive this primal life, he dies and at this point, Eliot begins his “The Hollow Men. ” He talks of men being “hollowed out” by war.
Such references as “This is the dead land / This is the cactus land / Here the stone images / Are raised, here they receive / The supplication of a dead man’s hand / Under the twinkle of a fading star,” as well as the time period in which the poem was written make it obvious that the poem is about World War I. The imagery of barren land and tomb stones show both the physical bleakness of war-torn Europe and that of a soldier’s soul. Thus this poem deals with emotions relating to the devastation war bring onto one’s soul. Men who have seen war are “the hollow men. ” They are expected by the society and eventually their own soul to feel certain emotions about war.
These prescribed emotions are the “straw” that fills their “headpiece” in line 4. A person at in this advanced culture is the product of the society even in the dark and deep levels of subconciousness. This person, “violent souls… ,” believes that they actually invent ideas that they simply learned all their lives “but [they are only] the stuffed men. ” A regular man, “Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed [stave] / In a field / Behaving as the wind behaves” (stuffed scarecrow), would feel devastated, scared, phased, disgusted, etc. after going through such gory battles as those of World War I.
A regular man would be expected to feel that way, “No nearer – [to the true feeling of one’s soul]. ” “The hollow men” go beyond, “More distant and more solemn / Than a fading star” this obligated feeling. They realize its fakeness, “Shape without form, shade without color. / Paralyzed force, gesture without motion. ” and go on to deal with what they really feel, something that cannot be identified, the “unspeakable rites. ” Instead of dignified “desire”, they deal with primal “spasms”. Instead of contemplating “potency”, they face existence; “the hollow men” live reality and ignore idealism.
There is a rift between the two, the “Shadow” of line 16. This shadow is that of the society. It is what keeps the man away from his primal passions. This “Shadow” is deeper explained by the Heart of Darkness at the inner station, where everything is twisted reality. Negroes are beaten for nothing there, technology, symbolized by a steamboat rots uselessly, and a glimpse at Kurtz, the man in touch with his id is first offered. Thus, an allusion to the novel allows Eliot to be concise and expect the reader to understand “The Hollow Men” through understanding the Heart of Darkness.
The imagery of both “The Hollow Men” and the Heart of Darkness is based on metonyms, figures of speech based on extremely loose, arbitrary associations. Both the poem and the novel are like dreams; they are a set of associations based on deep human emotions, which each author is trying to deal with. “There, the eyes are / Sunlight on a broken column / There, is a tree swinging / And voices are / In the wind’s singing” This is a random stream of memories that Eliot has from the war. “We grope together / And avoid speech.
” Perhaps, he recalls wandering through a ravaged village or battlefield, maybe seeing corpses, feeling of despair with his fellow soldiers. In the safety of a civilized world, as he writes, he remembers vivid snippets of his war days as one remembers parts of a dream after waking up. These snippets are like wandering electric currents between the three levels of human consciousness. They are “the horror” that the deepest level retains despite the other two levels’ attempts to forget. These metonyms are realizations of the emotions that are completely true to him, which Eliot attempts to deal with in this poem.
In the Heart of Darkness, imagery, also metonyms, is addressed in a different sense. They represent the truth. Images such as slaves dying in the woods, heads on sticks at the inner station, and a half-sunken boat are all randomly placed, wandering, and dream-like. These random, arbitrary, yet direct imagery shows the process of psyche’s operation. The id generates images (the metonyms in these works), but the ego and the superego suppress them with logic. At the same time, Conrad also presents images of what a society-influenced man is like; he gives the image of the fakeness.
The manager of the central station is clean, powdered, and impeccably dressed. His ego suppressed his id successfully, and he is “stuffed” with morals and measures of the society. Yet, he has that deep flare of greed that all the white inhabitants of the Congo share. The presentation of the station manager immensely benefits both authors explaining what they cannot comply with. Thus, in a work that is dream-like true emotions can be analyzed. The images in the Heart of Darkness, although dream-like, are still more concrete then T. S. Eliot’s stream of recollections.
Thus, an allusion to the novel is a good basis for the undertaking of Eliot’s poem. In its organization, the poem is completely erratic, yet divided into five clear parts. It can be described as a dream that makes sense only to the one who experiences it, and to nobody else. It is organized, yet ruthless. The poem is a stream of images, metonyms associated with Eliot’s war experience. After all, war and dreams are almost exact in their discontinuity, inexplicability, and absurdness. The first section of the poem is the most logical of the whole piece.
It discusses the prescribed emotions that the human ego carries, suppressing the primal yearnings of the id. As Eliot contemplates his emotions about his traumatic war experience in the second section, he comes to realize that he feels something beyond what is expected. The third section becomes a series of metonyms and recollections, as does the fourth. As the poem progresses it looses all logic, as if the author is responding spastically to his primal emotions. The poem’s organization degenerates, as a human does during his descent into true self.
“Here we go round the prickly pear / Prickly pear prickly pear / Here we go round the prickly pear / At five o’clock in the morning. ” This children’s song marks Eliot’s success at reaching his true emotions. He successfully sheds the “expected” through a process presented by organization. Heart of Darkness is once again useful because it also carries divisions into levels of entering ones id: three distinct sections that are filled with random imagery throughout. Thus, through his use of allusion in “The Hollow Men” T. S.
Eliot is able to explore the theme of a difference between a man’s true emotions and a man influenced by the society’s expectations. An allusion to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness gives Eliot a wide base for analysis as Conrad provides an extensive explanation of the human consciousness and subconsciousness, as well as a man’s descent into his true self. With the use of the novel and some of its rhetoric Eliot is able to compare the two states of man and the rift between ideology and practice and address his war-generated emotions.