Study Guide

The Hollow Men Setting

By T.S. Eliot


The Hollow Men live in a desert nether world that looks like it could be in outer space. Everything around them is bone dry. Everything, that is, except for the Acheron, a branch of the River Styx, the entrance to death, which the Hollow Men cannot get across. They are stuck between life and death. The river is "tumid" or full. The landscape is littered with small cacti, dry grass, broken stones, and columns. The stones look like the remnants of an archaic sacred space where a ritual was once held. The wind blows softly, producing a scratchy sound. You can barely make out a few stars in the distance, but every time you look, they appear farther and farther away. You get the feeling you are always being watched, and that the stars might actually be eyes.

You hear a low and meaningless mumbling from the banks of the river. What's that? Oh, it's just the Hollow Men, huddled together and trying not to be noticed. Their heads are stuffed with straw and they lean together like scarecrows on wooden posts. They can't see anything, and thus feel their way around by "groping." They are waiting for a ferryman who will never come.