Study Guide

The Hollow Men Speaker

By T.S. Eliot


The poem is a dramatic monologue of sorts, which means that the speaker is not just a stand-in for the poet. Instead, Eliot puts words in the mouths of the Hollow Men and allows them to explain their situation. But the voice of the Hollow Men seems to be made up of several different kinds of voices. The speaker is "fractured," like a broken mirror and like the images of broken things scattered throughout the poem.

At times the Hollow Men are a bit cheesy and self-pitying, such as when they cry, "Alas!" in line 4. At other times, they talk like professors of ancient Greek philosophy, covering topics like the gap between "idea" and "reality" or between "potency" and "existence." They speak in a highly stylized and symbolic language that does not resemble normal speech. How many people do you know who sprinkle their conversation with phrases like, "perpetual star/ Multifoliate rose" (lines 63-64)?

To be fair, the Hollow Men don't get a chance to defend themselves. It's more like they are puppets being manipulated by someone who wants to condemn them. This "someone" has read a lot of Dante's Divine Comedy and wants to compare the Hollow Men to the "small-souled" people in Canto 3 of Dante's Inferno. Our puppet-master/speaker also makes them sing and dance. The poem begins the declaration that the Hollow Men are a kind of chorus, speaking together as one. By the final section, they are dancing around a prickly pear cactus and singing a children's song. Every once in a while, they try to say part of the prayer but can't bring themselves to do it. They trail off and return to their "end-of-the-world" jig.