Wither by Lauren DeStefano & The Hollow Men

We continue our look at “Classroom Connections” for Wither by Lauren DeStefano today, with T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men — which is quoted at the opening of the book:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

The poem, written in 1925, is considered to be largely a reflection on life in Europe after World War I, though literary critics tend to think that those final lines of the poem (above) are actually in reference to the historical figure Guy Fawkes. (Whose part in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 to blow up England’s House of Lords ended with his own torture and execution).

But taken in the context of Wither, what other meaning can you interpret from those lines?

Furthermore, if you read the entire text of The Hollow Men, what other correlations can you make between Eliot’s poem and Wither?

Besides addressing life after WWI, many literary critics agree that The Hollow Men is also about the challenges of hope and religion, as well as Eliot’s own failed marriage. How do these additional themes in the poem relate to Wither? DeStefano’s book deals with many ideas of hope, in a world that sees its youngest generations dying at age 25 and 20. Marriage, too, is a pervading theme in Wither, with Rhine’s forced polygamous marriage to Linden being a commonality in the book’s society.

The Hollow Men also features references to Joseph Conrad’s novel The Heart of Darkness (with the poem’s epigraph, “Mistah Kurtz – he dead.“) and to Guy Fawkes (with the poem’s second epigraph, “A penny for the Old Guy.“). Other references in the poem include the Lord’s Prayer, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Dante’s Inferno, and another Conrad novel, An Outcast of the Islands. Can you think of any way these references within The Hollow Men might also relate to Wither?

This, of course, is one of many examples in which The Hollow Men is used in popular culture. Can you think of other examples?

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