There have been few novels that have had the ability to change my perspectivesabout life and the world around us. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is notone of them. Not because I disagree with or dislike his work. He cant, afterall, change my outlook on life if he and I share the same opinions. One suchthing is reflected in how our view of Kurtz is not too far from Marlows own,in the beginning, middle, or end of the book.
This is, of course, not to saythat our opinions and views of Kurtz do not change. Far from it. However, asMarlows myopic views of Kurtz melt away in the light of truth (whichironically revealed nothing but darkness), ours do as well. Our view of Kurtz isthat he is a great man. A man that defies description and conventional beleifand methods. A man who “all Europe” was responsible for the making of. Putsimply, Kurtz appears to be that last bastion of civilization in the “Heart ofDarkness.
” The reader begins to want to see Kurtz in order to experience hisgreatness. Kurtz Kurtz Kurtz. Its truly all one can think about. We HAVE tosee Kurtz so that we will find out just what all the hubbub is about. As I saidbefore, our views parallel Marlows. Marlow becomes obsessed with Kurtz andreaching him to the point of what I thought to be an acute case of monomania.
Simply put, Marlow has witnessed brutality, savagery, hatred, prejudice,injustice, and misery in the Congo. He has seen what “civilized men” arecapable of when the ties that bind are cut. He then hears that “all Europecontributed to the making of Kurtz.” “Ah,” Marlow thinks, “Perhaps thereis some civility out in this Godforsaken corner of the earth.” Which explainswhy Marlow must see Kurtz. I think that Kurtz (or at least the thought of him)was serving as an anchor for Marlows sanity or his soul, or perhaps both.
These views, however, do not last for long. Upon reaching the inner station, werealize that Kurtz is perhaps the most far-gone of all the Europeans in Africa(excepting, perhaps the manager). We are made to realize that Kurtz is not abastion of civility, but he is still a great man, as Marlow comes to admit.
Kurtz does everything. He takes what he wants when he wants it. He acts on hiswhims. He steals, lies, cheats, has sex with some, and kills others and performs”unspeakable rites” that are apparently so depraved that Marlow eithercannot or will not discuss them. He has become a creature of chaos. He hasbecome a creature of evil. Although we realize that Kurtz is a monster, we stillrecognize him as a great and respected person. The natives have deified him.
That he holds such influence over large amounts of people, both European andNative, speaks very highly of him. Our views of Kurtz eventually come fullcircle: from a great, good man, to a great, evil one. Marlow has a lot ofdifficulty dealing with Kurtz and what has become of him. Or perhaps I shouldsay what he has become. For, you see, I am of the opinion that Marlow IS Kurtz(which is why I said opposites attract earlier on). At least Kurtz is whatMarlow might have become. This bit of information is one of the main premises ofthe book: what do you get when you strip away the varnish of civilization from aman? What happens when you cut him from the society that made him. The answer?He becomes himself. Conrad believed (as do I) that man is an evil creature bynature. We all have evil within us, and if you were to remove us from thecivilization that created us, then we would become what we truly are. Kurtz madea deal with the devil; the devil within. Marlow realizes this and the thought ofit frightens him because he knows that the same thing could very well happen tohim, which is one of the reasons, I beleive that Marlow expressed the ultimatetruth at the end of the book with a lie. He saw what he might have become, andhe rejected it, because he couldnt handle it or it frightened him, or both.
But Kurtz embraced it. It is perhaps because Marlow realized that he wasKurtz-through-the-looking-glass, so to speak, that Marlow was so drawn to Kurtz.
It is this attraction to Kurtz that causes Marlow to become biased in hisopinions toward him. Marlow is fundementally unreliable and partial in hiscapacity as a first person narrator. He says damning things about Kurtz in someparts, but he always relents and always stuck with him to the bitter end. Why? Ithink it is because of the bond that the two shared, each one realizing that theother is what he might have become. That being said, Kurtzs tragic flaw isthat he allowed the darkness to consume him in his search for the Truth. Kurtz,I think, went into the Heart of Darkness to search for the truth, and when theTruth found KURTZ, it ate him alive. The villain of this story is not so easy todefine. It is niether good nor evil. It is the truth purely, and simply. Kurtzand Marlow both found the truth in different ways. Kurtz, by engulfing himselfin darkness and Marlow clinging to the white marble of his civility like a babyto its bottle. They arrived at their conclusions at the same time, althoughKurtz was made to realize it first. When Kurtzs Black and Marlows Whitecame together, it formed The Gray, the vast and empty nothingness that both menexperienced. It was life; hollow, nihilistic, empty, and pointless. This was thelast thing Kurtz ever saw. Oh, “the horror” of it all. Too much truth canhurt. It utterly destroyed both men. Sure, Marlow is alive, but is he reallyliving? No, I do not think he is. The truth shattered him and all of theprecepts he held dear. He is a shell of a man and nothing more, while Kurtz iseven less than that. Sometimes there are things better left in the dark. Heartof Darkness is a journey, not to the center of the jungle, but rather to thecenter of the soul. I must agree with Mr. Conrad about his beliefs on whathumans actually are. We may appear to be good natured and kind, but we are not.
Evil is in us all. If someone thinks of another as a “good-hearted” person,they would do well to remember that that “good heart” is literally andmetaphorically engulfed in darkness, never to see the light of day. Humans arenot good by nature. It is so-called civilization that alters us. It is like adrug. The moment its effects are gone, you revert back to what you are.
Civilization creates white cloak around us. But if we were to part the cloak andlook inside what we would see would be truly… horrible.
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