The Hollow Men

The Hollow Men Eliot and Modernism

Modernism describes the revolution in poetry promoted by T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound in their poems and essays in the early part of the twentieth century: a new kind of poetry to suit the modern age. Eliot wrote that the purpose of this revolution was to promote greater realism in literature. Every generation has their own perspective on reality, with new sources of information. New events happen to affect the tenor of the age. All of this must be reflected in a new kind of literature suitable for each generation.

This striving for greater realism effects both the content and form of Modernist literature.

The content of Modernism is derived partially from the naturalistic view of life. This is the idea that nature is all that exists; there is no supernatural power, like God. It was brought about by the rise of the natural sciences, and upended traditional religious faith systems. For example, Darwin’s theory of evolution undermined the concept of man as a spiritual being with an afterlife.

The formal elements of Modernism in Eliot’s poetry included: a return to common speech; a new importance given to metaphor; psychological realism, with stream-of-consciousness style; the organization of music, with use of recurring motifs and counterpoint; movie camera techniques, including the jump cut (the use of unexpected juxtapositions); the use of allusion, citing passages from the literature of the past; an ironic tone; and self-conflicting or paradoxical ideas.