Imagery Essay, Research Paper

Imagery 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.


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