This Semester in English Class, I Learned That the 1920s Were Actually the Worst Decade Ever.

After reading such a dense, cryptic poem, I feel shallow in noting that the imagery of the first section reminds me of the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz”.  (“We are the stuffed men/ Leaning together/ Headpiece stuffed with straw, alas.”) I picture a scarecrow standing alone out in a brownish-grey field, being pecked at by birds and leaking hay onto the sun-scorched ground.Honestly, though, this is a reasonable connection: since the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz” desires a brain (meaning intelligence to complement his willingness to contribute new ideas and speak out), he parallels the ‘hollow men’ from the poem. The hollow men lack the strength to stand up to the crumbling world around them, perhaps because they enjoy participating in its decay.

Immersing myself in the intricacies of the poem, I think of a wealthy man having a nightmare (in his bed… in his mansion… in West Egg), in which he is stranded in a desert — perhaps Nevada — with no water, struggling to find his way back to civilization… or at least a pond of some sort. He, in his deluded state, makes out a figure on the horizon, which seems rather human in silhouette. Recognizing that it is not a mirage, he approaches it, as they approach him, and they collapse in exhaustion around a cactus, struggling to find the words to The Lord’s Prayer as they lay crumpled, parched, repenting their sins.

In comparing this poem to the overall message of The Great Gatsby (which ties into this poem preeeeeeety well… 500 bonus points to Mr. Williams), one can easily see that the desert from “The Hollow Men” sounds a lot like the valley of ashes. Mankind, embracing its carefree consumerism and shallow desires, has cast aside “big-picture” concerns, such as the physical environment, or ethics in general. Both works evoke a sense of decay and misplaced priorities. However, “The Hollow Men” seems to focus more on the failures of a generation of people, while Gatsby criticizes a segment of society — the ultra-wealthy — as a whole.

Perhaps, if I had to (and I have to, since it’s in the prompt… (my train of thought tends to get pretty self-aware, I’ve noticed)), I could liken the green light on Daisy’s dock to the “voices in the [wind] singing/ More distant and more solemn/ Than a fading star.” Both convey a sense of fading possibility, longing, and yet, hope. The voices in “The Hollow Men” are calling the men to do what is right, what they had done before the current (1920’s) time of moral decay. The men know they need to find their purity once again, but they do not know how. Likewise, Jay Gatsby knows he needs to have Daisy in his life, but, early in the novel, he cannot seem to get a hold of her.

Both of these works seem to reflect major changes in society, from traditional values to modern ideas of happiness, right, and wrong. It would be silly to say that the 1920’s were the only such instance; however, with so much great literature from the era available, we, the current generation, must learn how to approach the coming changes in our society.


2 thoughts on “This Semester in English Class, I Learned That the 1920s Were Actually the Worst Decade Ever.

  1. Interesting parallel to the scarecrow from ‘The Wizard of Oz’; maybe Eliot conjures this image of a scarecrow (which, inherently, reminds us of its purpose of feigning as a human being) to describe these hollow men as unreal…they could, as you said, enjoy participating in such a decay. [pun in first sentence noted.]

    They could have become so hollow because of fear, fear of the eyes — or the truth. They want to have hope, yet they are reluctant to give up what they have because the disguises are so enticing. And this leads to impossibility, a sense of desperation seen in the overpowering themes of wealth and corruption in the 1920s.

    I liked your statement of applicability to different time periods…literature’s purpose is learning, and even though the scene painted by the 1920s is not an optimistic one, it is by and large a changing one, and we need to realize what values we need to retain in today’s evolving society as well.


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