Tuesday, January 25, 2011

T.S. Eliot and Conrad

While reading "Heart of Darkness" last night, I realized that I remembered the line "Mistah Kurtz is dead" from the T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men." Both T.S. Eliot and Conrad are writers with modern outlooks on life and the twentieth century. Below is the beginning of the "Hollow Men."

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar


chrissy said...

For all those who have seen Apocalypse Now, Kurtz reads "The Hollow Men" toward the end of the movie. Clearly the director was heavily influenced by these Modernist men.

Chloe said...

I think by including Mr. Kurtz, T.S. Eliot was really paying homage to Conrad. Or, maybe he was saying that "Mr. Kurtz is dead" because people in the modern age have little motivation and have become 'hollow', lacking the ability to connect or accomplish anything. I vaguely remember this poem, so I hope we re-read it in class!

Samantha said...

I believe Eliot opens his poem with this allusion to Conrad in order to suggest that Mr. Kurtz is the epitome of a hollow man. I think he chooses to use the quote "Mr. Kurtz- he dead," rather than simply mention Kurtz's name, because of the line's fame. Like Kurtz, the hollow men to whom Eliot refers are extremely idealistic but immoral. Inevitably, it is their blind idealism, as well as a host of other vices, that cause them to suffer complete moral corruption. On a more literal level, in Conrad's novella, Marlow actually comments upon Kurtz's hollowness as he asserts, "It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core..."

C-Sted said...

I think it is important to remember what Achebe said about this famous quotation. To quote, " As for the announcement of Mr. Kurtz's
death by the 'insolent black head in the doorway,' what better or more appropriate finis could be written to the horror story of that wayward child of civilization who willfully had given his soul to the powers of darkness and 'taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land' than the proclamation of his physical death by the forces he had joined?"

Racial issues aside, I think that this Achebe accurately pinpoints Conrad's meaning, namely that Kurtz has fallen prey to the very forces he commanded. His power proved to be meaningless, and he was consumed both physically and spiritually by them. I absolutely agree with Samantha's interpretation, therefore, that Kurtz experiences a moral corruption that robs him of spiritual substance. Any meaningful action he was taking becomes null when he dies.