ImageryImagery Depicted Through T.S. Elliot’s ?The Hollow Men?
The imagery depicted in T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men evokes a sense of
desolate hopelessness and lends to Eliot’s generally cynical view of civilization during this
period in history. A reaction of deep and profound disappointment in mankind around him
is made evident in this poem, first published in 1925. In this short piece, Eliot lists several
deep faults he finds in his fellow human beings, including hypocrisy, insensability and
indifference. Overall Elliot leaves the reader with a feeling of overwhelming emptiness.
An important feature of this poem is the fact that the narration of the poem is in
first person. This establishes Eliot’s and the readers relationship to the images and ideas
presented. When the poem begins We are the hollow men rather than They are … or
You are… the reader is immediately included within this poem, along with Eliot himself.
This type of narration creates a sense of common hollowness and by the end of the
poem, therefore, a sense of common responsibility and guilt. Early in the poem, Eliot
creates a world of desolation. The idea of dryness is emphasized by the repeadted use of
the word dry in the first stanza, where we read of dried voices, dry grass and dry
cellar. When he mentions the sound of rats feet over broken glass he subtly prods at
our anxieties about disease and decay.
Eliot then mentions the dead, calling them Those who have crossed…to death’s
other kingdom. These people are made real by Eliot’s repeated mention of their eyes. He
refers to them first as making their crossing into death with direct eyes, meaning that
they faced and surrendered to death, unable to turn away. Also he states they have eyes I
dare not meet in dreams, indicating that this narrator fears addressing death, either his own or those who have crossed. Later in the poem, in part IV, Eliot returns to the eyes
imagery with The eyes are not here/There are no eyes here. The absence of eyes, here,
indicates Eliot’s condemnation of indifference among those still living to the fate of the
dead. Further into section IV he presents The hope only/Of empty men as being when
and if The eyes reappear/ As the perpetual star. Here Eliot calls for an opening of eyes
and cessation of disregard and indifference to these deaths.
The idea of being afraid to face death and feeling guilt over the deaths of others
contributes to the full explanation of what Eliot means by hollow men. Besides being
afraid to face the eyes of the dead, just as the criminal cannot face the eyes of his victim,
this narrator also expresses a desire to hide from death itself. When he wishes to also
wear/Such deliberate disguises/Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves/In a field/Behaving as
the wind behaves, we realize that the hollowness is a disguise to fool death into going
elsewhere. This particular section of the poem overlapes images of rats and crows, animals
associated not only with death, but also with the scarecrow and it’s crossed support staves.
Section V of the poem begins with a variation of a children’s rhyme, Here we go round
the mulberry bush which replaces the mulberry with the cactus called a prickly pear. This
strange song comes somehow as a relief from the desolate tone of the poem previously.
The presence of the cactus instead of the familiar mulberry keeps the reader in Eliot’s
world of desolation, while bringing to mind the fact that innocent children still live and
play in that world, and that someone must take responsibility for the world they are born
The somewhat grim concluding stanza echoes the mulberry bush song from
earlier, this time with an even darker tone. Again the reader is confronted with the image
of children, their playfulness and hopefulness, paired with the image of the death of not
only men but of the entire world. Here Eliot plainly states a ghastly warning about the path he sees his world taking. He sees it all coming to an end not in some apocalyptic
catastrophe, but through mankind allowing himself to slowly decay and degrade to the
point of oblivion.