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The Hollow Men

The Hollow Men

by T.S. Eliot

Stuffings and Scarecrows

Symbol Analysis

So which is it? Are the Hollow Men "hollow" or are they "stuffed"? Both, it seems. Their hollowness is a sign that they lack a soul and other essential qualities of being human. They are also dead, so they don't have complete bodies. But they are filled with straw like one of the effigies that English school-kids blow up on Guy Fawkes Day (see our discussion of the "Second Epigraph"). Or you can think of them as being like scarecrows. Similar to the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz that only needed a brain to be a real person, they exist in a state that is less than fully real.

  • Second Epigraph: "A penny for the guy," is what kids in England say on Guy Fawkes Day when begging for money to buy fireworks to burn or blow up their straw effigies of Guy Fawkes. This tradition mimics Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up Parliament back in the day. These effigies were like dolls filled with straw or another kind of stuffing.
  • Lines 1-4: Their hollowness is a symbol of their lack of essential qualities. Their existence is – literally – empty.
  • Lines 17-18: The last two lines of the first section repeat the same phrases as the first two lines of the poem.
  • Lines 32-35: These lines are the clearest expression of the scarecrow-like features of The Hollow Men. They wear ragged clothes and stand in a field, supported by wooden poles or "crossed staves." In line 25, their aimless behavior is compared using simile to the motions of the wind.

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