The Hollow Men Summary by TS Eliot


The poem The Hollow Men narrates the morbid presence of the men who live in a state of limbo, an empty visage, and incomplete resolution. For people who find their path to either paradise or perdition. These are empty manifestations of life and hence they are called ‘hollow’.

They yearn for completeness bit are too afraid, meek and incapable of finding the restitution of death. The death is portrayed as dual reality, one which occurs in here and the hereafter.

Two Hollow Men

The poem begins by mentioning two such Hollow men from literature and history. Guy Fawkes (a 17TH Century terrorist) is used as a symbol of spiritual hollow man and Mr. Kurtz (Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) represents the physical hollow man.

Moving on we are introduced to the main cast, the eponymous ‘Hollow men’, which is a dreadful group of scarecrow-like dark figures.

They are stranded at one side of River Styx because they are paralyzed with fear and sadness and cannot cross it to reach the glory of paradise or doom of hellfire. They are constantly subdued by the dark shadows of doom and death.

Fear of Dead Forefathers

Next, we come to one of the hollow men who confesses his fear of the glares from the dead forefathers. He talks about the death’s dreamland i.e. sleep, a form of temporary death.

He is circumspect of his meaningless presence and wants to avoid the judgment in the eyes of the dead while they lie motionless in sleep. He vacillated between spells of despair and hope and yearns for oblivion and distance lest he is scrutinized.

Dread Environment

In the third stanza, there is a glimpse of the environment. There is an ambiance of dread and desolation, like endless dunes of doom and demise. It is a land without hope, a valley of dashed expectations under the shade of bleeding skies and decaying stars.

For the hollow men, there is only one escape from such reign of fear, the reverie of death. The men long for an intimate touch, a smile, a kiss, and an embrace. However, it is beyond their power to feel such tangible rewards again.

Children’s Rhyme

In the end, the poet uses a children’s rhyme and the Lord ’s Prayer but with changed lyrics. Unlike the children who run around a blooming bush, these adults are circumambulating a cacti plant, a plant symbolizing scarcity and adversity.

Then, in an attempt to chant the Lord’s Prayer (like in a Christian ceremony), the hollow men meet their end and are reduced to non-existence. But their final moment is not of brilliant explosion of dramatic thunder.

It is rather unflattering, muted, insignificant and unimpressive, much like their lifeless existence before.