The Hollow Men summary and analysis 2

Speaking in first person, the narrator – presumably one of the hollow men – describes a fear of ‘death’s dream kingdom’ and the ‘eyes’ which stare out from it. The dream kingdom seems to be the opposite of the ‘other kingdom’ of stanza one, or heaven.

The speaker fears seeing the eyes even in dreams, and describes how the eyes are not even concerned with the hollow men. Heaven is presumed to be a place with sunlight, trees, singing and stars, but it’s all fading. Rather than face ‘death’s dream kingdom’, the speaker would disguise himself as a scarecrow (more Guy Fawkes resemblances) and speak of his dread of the approaching ‘final meeting’.

The most powerful feeling emitted in this section of the poem is fear and the strongest symbol is the disembodied eyes. In another Eliot poem, the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, eyes are seen to pin a person to a wall, examine him like a bug pinned onto a paper. Similarly, the eyes mentioned in the Hollow Men are frightening. Eyes can see. Sight leads understanding and meaning, both of which are lacking in the hollow men. The speaker fears to meet these eyes even in dreams, making us think of nightmares. The irony is that these eyes come from the ‘dream kingdom’, from heaven. The hollow men have little or no qualms about the direct eyes of the ‘other kingdom’, hell, observing them. It’s the heavenly ones that cause them to fear.

To the speaker, heaven is made of sunlight, stars, singing and trees. Yet all of these things behave in an uncoordinated fashion, bearing marked resemblance to the meaninglessness of the hollow men’s existence. They don’t really know what heaven is like, so they imagine and their imagination takes them hardly farther than their own kingdom. The sunlight is bouncing off a ‘broken column’, signifying antiquity, decay and past greatness. The tree is ‘swinging’, giving an image of a man dangling from a hangman’s rope. The ‘voices’ in the wind are disembodied, like the eyes, and are fading with the stars, revealing how distant and hopelessly lost the hollow men are. It seems the speaker feels depressed about the solemn fading of the stars and voices, and yet still is terrified of them coming closer. The ‘deliberate disguises’ of ‘rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves’ recalls both a scarecrow and a Guy Fawkes effigy. Taking the scarecrow into account, it is both stuffed with straw and hollow of life, representing the hollow men with great accuracy. In the first section, the wind is equated with meaninglessness; once again, the idea of wind lacking meaning is brought out as the speaker declares he will be ‘behaving as the wind behaves’, blowing around uselessly, meaninglessly. And all of this out of desperation to avoid the ‘final meeting’ which may be a reference to the biblical Last Judgement of God.

Although there are many repetitions of the ‘eyes’, ‘death’s dream kingdom’ and twilight, fading images, there is no other form of symmetry in the rhyme or rhythm. The speaker speaks in choppy, erratic sentences which carry on his sense of fear and terror in an extremely effective way.

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