Comment 23 of 255, added on December 11th, 2005 at 5:40 PM.
In T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, and in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great
Gatsby, the reader is confronted by an unsavory view of humanity. Both
Fitzgerald and Eliot show that society is constantly de-evolving, both
morally and spiritually. There are numerous similarities between these two
works. However, the differences in the author’s view of modern life
distinguish these as two unique and original pieces.
The diction of both authors is extremely precise. This precision of
diction leads to the effective conveyance of all other literary
conventions, and thus, the authors’ styles. In “The Hollow Men”, the
diction initially appears muddled. This is because the reader does not
accept the ideas that Eliot is trying to convey. The passage “In this
valley of dying stars | In this hollow valley | This broken jaw of our lost
kingdom”(Eliot, lines 54-56) might lead the reader to try to work out some
type of muddled metaphor. The diction in this passage is intended only to
evoke strong feelings associated with “broken jaw”, “hollow valley” and
“dying stars”. Fitzgerald’s diction, on the other hand is made clear
solely through his precise use of words: “It faced, or seemed to face, the
whole external world for an instant and then concentrated on you with an
irresistible prejudice in your favor.” Every word is used in its accurate
and literal definition to complete the dramatic effect.
Symbolism is used extensively throughout the works of Fitzgerald and Eliot
and assists us in comprehending their style. In “The Hollow Men” almost
every word is linked to some symbol of moral downfall. This symbolic
density leads to a feeling of symbolic intensity. Eliot packs the repeated
symbolic meaning in a hope that some of it will be remembered. Correct
moral action is composed not only of action, but also of ‘seeing’ what is
correct, ‘speaking’ the truth. The passage “The eyes are not here| There
are no eyes here| Inn this valley of dying stars| In this hollow valley|
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms” shows that modern people are
incapable of seeing what the correct course of action is (“There are no
eyes here…”) and also incapable of speaking correctly of their fellows
(“This broken jaw…”). The “lost kingdom” might pertain to the kingdom that
existed when morality was still present in daily life. The symbolism in
The Great Gatsby is much more sparse, but it is still just as intense when
it is presented. The symbolic Valley of Ashes is described early in the
book and is recurs several times. This Valley is described as “a fantastic
farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque
gardens, where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke
and finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already
crumbling through the powdery air.” People who live in the Valley might
start out full of life, but soon have their vitality sucked from them.
This can be interpreted as symbolic of the times in which we live, where a
man might start out life full of morals and faith, but soon has them sucked
from him by the ethical vacuum of modern society.
The undertones of both works were surprisingly similar when one considers
the diversity of the works themselves. One could interpret the undertone
of The Great Gatsby as futility. This is justified by the activities,
traits, and backgrounds of all of the characters in the book. Every
character, whether their early life was uncorrupt or not, became imperfect.
Gatsby, for example, began life as a hard worker, who was aiming to reform
the world, “ ‘Jimmy was bound to get ahead…Do you notice what he’s got
about improving his mind?’ ” (Mr. Gatz to Nick), but ended his life as a
mobster chasing an unattainable dream. Even Wilson, a seemingly perfect
character, showed his imperfection when he killed himself and Gatsby. When
it seems that every person is bound for downfall, it is futile even to try.
The undertone of “The Hollow Men” is slightly different, but similarly
meaningful. It is the idea of waste as represented by the Shadow.
“Between the idea |and the reality| between the motion| and the act| falls
the Shadow” The shadow falls between the idea and the reality, and thus
stops the reality from occurring. The idea is then wasted, because it was
not brought to an active fruition. An alternate undertone for “the Hollow
Men” is the same one as in The Great Gatsby: futility. Most people desire
to end their lives with a bang, to go out swinging. Nobody wants to end
his or her life with a whimper. Thus if “This is the way the world ends|
Not with a bang but a whimper” is interpreted as meaning the true end of
the individual world, the reader gets a sense of futility.
Although the undertones were similar, the tones were very different. The
overall tone of The Great Gatsby was humanity (or the lack thereof). This
was made most clear through the difference in the ‘humanity level’ between
East and West Egg. Although no character was morally perfect, there was a
marked contrast between East and West Egg. West Egg seems to house
characters that have a better concept of humanity. These characters are
Nick and Gatsby. They could and did consider other people’s feelings and
lives before acting. The inhabitants of East Egg, however, do not concern
themselves with others’ feelings. The tone of “The Hollow Men” is death
and spirituality. Throughout the poem, various references are made to
religion and death. The “multifoliate rose” on line 64 is a reference to
“Dante Paradisio”. Toward the end of “The Hollow Men”, several references
are made to the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the kingdom…. For Thine is the
kingdom…For Thine is…For Thine is the…”.
Another difference between the styles of Fitzgerald and Eliot is their use
of imagery. In The Great Gatsby ‘sugar-coated’ imagery is more common than
images that show corruption. Most of the images that show the modern
society as a farce are associated with the Valley of Ashes: “occasionally a
line of grey cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly
creak and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-grey men swarm up with
leaden spades…”. These ‘dirty images’ are never near East or West Egg.
The Eggs exist to show a superficial splendor that is so gaudy it appears
sickly. The imagery in “The Hollow Men” is much more intense. Instead of
being superficial splendor interspersed with glimpses of the underlying
decay, it is an almost uninterrupted view of decay and darkness. From the
beginning of the poem Eliot presents the reader with dark images: “Or rats’
feet over broken glass | in our dry cellar”. The images are carried
through all the way to the end with “Falls the Shadow” and “This is the
way the world ends”.
Although the points of view that the authors express are nearly identical,
there is one fundamental difference. In Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”, nobody
is specifically exempt from being considered hollow; everyone is included
under “We are the hollow men…”. However, in The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald
leaves room for redemption. Throughout most of the story, the reader is
presented with the idea that nobody is perfect, or even incorruptible.
Near the end, however, when Mr.Gatz produces the young Jay Gatsby’s copy of
Hopalong Cassidy, it becomes apparent that children have the capacity to be
non-corrupt and pure. Indeed, the younger Gatsby had aimed to improve the
world as well as himself. When we are presented with this idea of blissful
and blessed childhood, it carries with it the promise of adult fruition.
That is the one fundamental difference between Eliot and Fitzgerald. Eliot
originally presented the idea of a corrupt modern society. Fitzgerald was
inspired by Eliot and added one important idea to the mix: hope. And
through that hope a promise of blessed triumph on “one fine morning”.
from United States