“The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot
The imagery in this poem is dense and reminiscent of a certain Dust Bowl wasteland. The most compelling image that stands out to me is (with a little hesitation because it’s so hard to choose) best explained here:
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
The poem can be interpreted at this point in many ways. For a more literal approach, the broken jaw of lost kingdoms could be interpreted as an America reminiscent of heirarchical Europe. In essence, the American dream isn’t much different from a corrupt European feudal system. However, I think the message is more about apathy than it is about parallelism between what was and what is. “The eyes are not here; There are no eyes here” implies that people aren’t looking around at the present crisis. It implies that despite the presence of humanity, humanity has denied its own value through ignorance and carelessness. The valley of dying stars and the hollow valley demonstrate the emptiness of life in this place. I’d like to make note that the imagery isn’t about death; it’s about the absence of life.
This directly leads to the connection with Gatsby. This isn’t necessarily a depressed time like the 30s, the setting described here is one that has an absence of life. Gatsby, to a similar extent, describes a place which, by all accounts, SHOULD be a utopia, but isn’t. The apathy of humanity and the carelessness of the rich leaves an empty feeling on society. The Valley of Ashes in the novel is just like the valley of dying stars and the hollow valley. Neither are a consequence of the poor; however, the poor have to suffer the consequences of this emptiness, this careless capitalism, and this blind motivation. (Which is also a lot like The Grapes of Wrath). This theme appears and reappears throughout literature as an example of the blindness we assume when we adhere to capitalism and society as a whole. T.S. Eliot shows a more apocalyptic view this reality, and The Great Gatsby defines this idea through a narrative of eventual decay. The final lines of the poem really bring home the message that both try to convey.
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.