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Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, and "Hollow Men," by T.S. Eliot have several comparative themes, though each author has an entirely separate way of conveying them. Each work displays a darkened and dismal mood, separation, and obscurity, which are depicted through different characters and environments. The authors both have a disdain for the hierarchy in society, which they cannot escape, and the destructive consequences that occur because of a higher authority's demands. And, both authors portray characters who are observant, though one observes the tactile, and the other looks deeper into the spirituality of himself and others.
Conrad and Eliot make darkness, death, impending doom, and separation the main focus in these two pieces of work. On page one of Heart of Darkness, Conrad uses descriptions like "haze, dark, mournful, brooding, and gloom" to set the general scene and mood for the continuum of the novel. Eliot sets up a similar scene by using "death" several times throughout the poem (line 14), and parallels life with "fading" or "dying stars" (line 28, 44, and 54). In lines 39-44 Eliot even goes so far as to give a morbid depiction of a graveyard,
This is the dead land
This is the cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Although the setting is a huge part of depicting the mood, the characters and their personalities cannot be forgotten; their personalities also convey the theme of darkness. While Marlow is in the waiting room he feels "slightly uneasy," and as if there is "something ominous in the atmosphere" (8). Conrad continues to use such descriptions through Marlow to delineate the feeling of darkness within himself. Marlow says that "instead of going to the center of a continentÅÂ [he feels he is going into] the center of the earth" (10). Conrad views this adventure as not only an exploration of the shadowy interior of the earth, but also a darkened descent into Marlow's soul. Eliot uses confusing metaphors to convey his intent, instead of simply laying out average descriptions that the reader can easily understand; although the basic meaning of "Hollow Men" parallels that of Heart of Darkness. Eliot says that "Between the emotion / And the response / Falls the Shadow" (line 80-82), meaning that how one feels about something is distorted by the "Shadow"(line 82); so, the outcome is darker than it would be with normal emotions. This is what Marlow experiences on his journey to the Congo; trying circumstances directly affect the emotions of both characters. Both of the authors use a setting that is isolated from general society. In Heart of Darkness, Marlow and his crew are separated from the usual way of life on their journey to Africa. Likewise, in "Hollow Men," the narrator and the men he is describing are isolated from their every day life. Eliot points out, they were "in a field / behaving as the wind behaves" (line 34-35). This shows the reader that Eliot's narrator, and the other men whom he describes are in a desolate environment. The authors use separation to give the reader a deeper sense of darkness, which anyone could relate to, and associate with loneliness.
Another major theme of both works involves the journey, in which, each protagonist is on, and the purpose of that journey. Both character's talents are utilized by a higher authority in order to save themselves from the damnation that they know is bound to occur; obviously, the authors do not approve of such exploitation. In lines 1-7 Eliot uses evasive metaphors like,
We are hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless,
This describes how the government has taken away the narrator's free will, and soul, and has filled the hollow space with their ideals; he feels as though his voice is meaningless. He goes onto satirize the children's song "The Mulberry Bush", by calling it the "prickly pear" (line 68-70). By calling it this he is implying that there is imminent danger in the situation that he is forced to enter. Comparatively, in Heart of Darkness Marlow is sent into a questionable situation by British who are trying to colonize the Congo. Both authors portray the purpose of these journeys as anything but noble, contrary to what the instigators of each scenario would have one to believe.
Both Marlow, and the narrator of "Hollow Men" are observant individuals, although they display different kinds of observations. On page three of Heart of Darkness, the unnamed seaman makes the remark that "Marlow is not typical, and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outsideÅÂ " The seaman clearly states that Marlow observes what is tactile, or what he can see and hear. Throughout the novel, Marlow never alludes to anyone's personality, but instead describes his or her outward appearance and actions. On the other hand, the narrator of "Hollow Men" describes his innermost feelings, and those of people around him. This is seen in lines 84-90 when Eliot says,
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow.
This passage can be seen as an interpretation of the emotions of the narrator and the people around him; the want, the violence, the force, the struggle for existence, human nature, and mental descent all linger in the darkness of human souls.
Both pieces of work display profound insight and description of what goes on in the human mind and soul. Eliot's work gives the reader a picture of the human soul in trying circumstances, while Conrad shows a sort of superficiality through Marlow and the situations he faces. The reader can take away a better sense of themselves after reading these works and placing themselves in the narrator's position.