In the classic novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad takes us on a journey intothe soul of man. When the character of Marlow travels into the jungle of Africa to findKurtz, he realizes that he is in a place where the rules of society no longer constrainhuman nature, and the frightening truths about human beings can be observed first hand.
Marlow finds that human nature is something terrible and unlimited by observing theeffects of such freedom on Kurtz. He also discovers that human nature is able to be altered(subject to the constraints placed on it by the environment), and that it is able to be eithergood or evil.
The temptation of evil, existing the most in an environment lacking any rules,creates a turmoil in the human soul, as it struggles between its conscience and itsKurtz confides in Marlow near the end of the book, and from him Marlow learnsabout human nature as he examines Kurtz’s destroyed soul. Marlow says, “By being alonein the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and….
it had gone mad” (p.150). Marlowobserves how Kurtz struggles with himself, and the horrors of the wilderness that he hadgiven in to. When Marlow arrives at Kurtz’s station, he finds that Kurtz participates inhorrible ceremonies, like one in which he beheaded natives and placed their heads on fenceposts as symbols. Marlow believes that the wilderness “whispered to him things abouthimself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counselwith this great solitude — and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating” (p.138).
Without the constraints of society, Kurtz is able to fulfill his inner desires and go beyondany restraints that he may have had before. In Kurtz, Marlow sees “the inconceivablemystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly withAs Kurtz approaches death, he struggles desperately with himself and the evil thathe had resigned his soul too. “..Both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of themysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satiated with primitiveemotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success andpower”(p.152). The conflict between good and evil is raging in Kurtz’s soul at this time, ashe struggles between the greatness that he had possessed, and the emptiness of a soultempted by evil. When first talking to Marlow, Kurtz tells him that he was “on thethreshold of great things” (p.148). As they travel through the wilderness to leave thestation that destroyed Kurtz, Marlow comments, “Oh he struggled! he struggled! Thewastes of his weary brain were haunted by shadowy images now — images of wealth andfame revolving obsequiously round his inextinguishable gift of noble and lofty expression”(p. 152). Even as he waits to die, Kurtz’s greatness refused to completely submit as itfights the powerful force of evil that has consumed his soul. Before he dies, Marlow observes on Kurtz’s face “the expression of sombre pride,of ruthless power, of craven terror”(p.153). All of human nature, evoked from the lack ofconstraints he found in the wilderness, fought within him until the end – when he sums uphis struggles and observations of human nature with one phrase: “The horror! Thehorror!” Marlow admires Kurtz for these words, because Kurtz had learned and reached aconclusion on human nature in his last moment of life, and, as Marlow says, “the most youcan learn from life is some knowledge of yourself….” (p. 154). Marlow also calls thesewords “a moral victory” because they show that he had struggled to the end — that Kurtzhad not simply resigned to some state between good and evil, but he had been able tojudge everything that he had experienced, throwing out one phrase at the end of hisstruggle that summed up human nature. This ability was Kurtz’s greatness. His last wordshad “the appalling face of a glimpsed truth — the strange commingling of desire and hate”(p.155). “The horror” that Kurtz labels is the struggle between good and evil that a greatman experienced when faced with human nature in its purest form, without societysAfter Kurtz’s death, Marlow takes with him the knowledge of human nature thathe gains from him. He says, “I remembered his abject pleading, his abject threats, thecolossal scale of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish ofhis soul” (p.159). Marlow sees his face in windows, and hears his last words everywhere.
He is haunted by the tormented discoveries that Kurtz passed on to him, and when heconfronts Kurtz’s intended, who is a symbol of good, he is not able to corrupt hergoodness by rendering Kurtz the justice of passing on his words to others. Although hefeels that he has betrayed Kurtz, he still does not feel that he is able to pass on hisjudgement because “It would have been too dark — too dark altogether…” (p.164).
Instead, Marlow retains the truth of human nature within himself, mourning the terribleand traumatic end of the great man that Kurtz was, and continued to be, in his mind. Kurtzwas great because he answered the question of human nature that haunts everyone. Hefound truth and fought the battle of good and evil, and in the end was still able to judgehimself with his own harsh words: The horror! One is truly able to see this internalstruggle in Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness, as Kurtz struggles between his conscienceBibliography:
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