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The Hollow Men - Epigraph

The Hollow Men

T. S. Eliot

Bring out the significance of the Epigraph of T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men.


At the very outset of T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men, we are introduced with the epigraph of the poem. It has a great importance in accordance with the theme and the setting of the poem. The epigraph includes:

First, the extract, ‘Mistaha Kurtz - he dead’ is an allusion of Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness. In his novels Conrad paints a picture of the empty nature of men. Mr. Kurtz, a European slave trader who came on a trip to Africa to run his business, is a character who lacks soul, so, the real `is Man, as we shall see later. Here, we need to highlight several interesting aspects. On the one hand, the phonetic spelling of "Mr." is changed to Mista. The ellipse of the verb, on the other hand, ‘he died’. This proves that the speaker is probably some kind of non-native English speaker who uses Pidgin or Creole language (slave, if we look back at Conrad's novel). But, why is he called a ‘slave’? Probably, because he represents another kind of "hollow man", a passive soul, humble, but passive. What's more, it seems that this verse `where is Mr. Kurtz? The answer to a question like this, as if we don't know that he (already) is dead. The notion of `neglected death´ related to emptiness will later develop through poetry.

In the second quote, the epigraph points to the tradition of the 5th of November, Guy Fawkes's Day in England. In 1605 Guy Fawkes failed and tried to blow up the Parliament building. T.S. Eliot quotes Kids who are trying to buy fireworks have been called in this holiday to burn straw paintings of money Fawkes for the old guy. In this verse the old and the Fawkes are composed of capital letters, the doll represents a "poor, old, mortal colleague" who emphasizes the need to give a few beggars. However, we must note the ambiguity of the sentence, since the Old Guy does not refer to any particular character or person, and we cannot guess whom Eliot is addressing if we do not know the cultural background described earlier.

Yet, what is the relationship between these two terms? This written image came back a long time back even for the patient men who finally believed what they were doing, but the consequences set the natural opposite of the horrible, modern man hiding, who basically does not believe in anything and is therefore at the core of his being, if we I remember the well-known celebration of Valencia (Spain) but like Guy Fawkes Dummy or Fallas’ ninot. Thus, two different types of empty / staff management are presented: one that lacks a soul (Mr. Kurtz) and one that lacks a real body (Guy Fawkes Dummy), representing physical and spiritual emptiness.           

However, in this way, T.S. Eliot establishes the setting and the theme in the first two lines of the poem. In brief, the first epigraph shows a fundamental contrast and the second points to a fundamental similarity with the men of the hollow men. The empty men are opposed to Mistah Kurtz but they are similar to 'Old Guy'. Mistah Kurtz, the protagonist of Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, is better than Hollow Men, because he's dead and they're dead. There are similarities between the hollow man and the image of the ‘Old Guy’ or Guy Fawkes because the latter is also a hollow man. The protagonist is, in fact, one of the stuffed dummies, symbolizing the condition of the sensitive part of humanity in the modern waste land.


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