The poem’s tone is one of sadness but not pity. There is a fine line between shouting his problems and someone seeking pity. Eliot clearly does not cross that line of difference. The hollow men want to be remembered not as lost souls but as exactly what they are, men who are hollow because of their own choices. Eliot consistently uses paradox and irony throughout the poem to help give meaning to his theme. The very words “hollow man” are somewhat a paradox.
A man cannot be literally hollow, but a man can be hollow if he lacks any true convictions, or any recognition of the ultimate truth of life, which, according to this piece, is death. Many lives can be summarized by the lines “Between the idea/And the reality/Between the motion/And the act/Falls the Shadow”. These same lines describe the character Kurtz from Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness very well. Kurtz is the prime example of Eliot’s “hollow man”.
He was so driven by selfish and wild dreams that it cost him his sanity, and eventually his life. He resembled such an evil trade company full of “hollow men” such as himself. Besides Marlow, they were all “hollow men”; men empty of faith, personality, moral strength, and even humanity. Marlow meets morally “hollow men” throughout the entire story. Even when Kurtz is insane, he still realizes the horror of what he and humanity is capable of. That may explain his dying words, “The horror, the horror! ”.