Heart of Darkness and "The Hollow Men”
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness reveals the theme of self-reflection, however that reflection leads to a caliginous finish filled with vacantness. A poem written in 1925, “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot, portrays a nearly equivalent feeling of emptiness. Both of which form a vacuous, hollow existence of man. Conrad and Eliot’s work mirrors each other’s directly with their internal reflection and overall emptiness. In fact, Eliot even begins his poem with “Mistah Kurtz- He dead.” a citation from Heart of Darkness.
Poems often intend to express more than what they literally say within their lines. In T.S. Eliot’s “Hollow Men,” Eliot depicts the insignificant lives of these “hollow men,” “stuffed” with worthlessness.
He then goes on to explain how the men go about their daily lives and “whisper together” meaningless things. Eliot also speaks of the eyes that are “more distant and more solemn than a fading star.” The hollow men’s eyes are in a sort of hellish state, with stares of nothingness as they gaze out among the world.
God’s eyes seem out of reach to these hopeless men, God’s eyes “do not appear,” they are too distant for them to reach. “This dead land this cactus land here the stone images are raised,” men in this barren and empty land are seen worshipping false gods, worthless stone. The only way for the hollow men to find hope is for God to be brought pack in and praised in “death’s twilight kingdom,” which in itself seems hopeless.
Almost spontaneously Eliot brings in a nursery rhyme, creating a whimsical and simplistic way about the hollow men. Shortly after he starts the Lord’s Prayer, “For thine is the Kingdom,” and repeats it several times seeming to loose his train of thought, adding to the meaningless stuffing of these hollow men. “This is the way the world ends not with a bang but a whimper,” ends Eliot’s poem and also the lives of the hollow men, without meaning or significance. Like the theme of hollowness throughout “The Hollow Men,” “Heart of Darkness” generates the similar theme of self-reflection and the eventual feeling of emptiness. The protagonist, Marlow, sees that England is filled with superfluous actions and material things.
“The inner truth is hidden.” The character of Marlow consists of a wandering sailor with little knowledge of who he really is. When traveling throughout the world, Marlow’s eyes open as he realizes the darkness of the world. Marlow leaves behind Eliot’s “deliberate disguises” and journeys to the void land of Africa. Soon He soon ascertains that Africa is very similar to England, in that it is centered around the worthless materials and money, “the word ‘ivory’ rang in the air… you would think they were praying to it.” Marlow’s main reason of going into this strange land was to check on the inner station and unintentionally on Kurtz.
Through all of the things Marlow witnesses on his voyage, he discovers the true emptiness and hollowness within himself. The jungles of Africa assume the same roles as the deserts of “The Hollow Men,” the area is barren and forsaken reflecting the mind of Marlow. In the “inner station” Marlow meets a character who seems to be “stuffed” like the men of Eliot’s poem, “I could poke my forefinger through him, and would find nothing but a little loose dirt.” When Kurtz is finally introduced in Heart of Darkness he is repeatedly labeled as a “universal genius,” and this so-called genius is from his own inner reflections.
Something “had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conceptions till he took counsel with this great solitude – and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.” The whispers in “The Hollow Men” are also found throughout Heart of Darkness. Kurtz knows deep inside that he is empty and attempts to fill the void with these whispers.
His remorse for these actions are revealed through his last words, “The horror! The horror!” His genius was eventually seen for what it truly was; he knew was he had, a “hollow” existence. The poem and novella both represent the masked, hollow, and meaningless existence of men, through a sense of reflection of oneself. Heart of Darkness is a tale of searching of meaningless ends and “The Hollow Men” reveals the tragedy of the hollowness in men, both show that these material obsessions of the world are worth nothing in the overall outlook of life.
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