A lie is an untruth. It can be a false statement or a statement left unsaidwhich causes someone to be misled. In life, lies are told for many differentreasons. In fiction, they thicken the plot and overall setting of the story. InConrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow dislikes lies and therefore only tells two,both in extraordinary circumstances. Thus, these lies show the following aboutMarlow: even though he has been touched by evil, he is still a good man himself.
He never actually tells a lie, but lets others continue to believe what theyalready believe in which case helps him justify the lies. Marlow, in the middleof his story, interrupts himself to say, “You know I hate, detest, andcan’t bear a lie.” He does not think he is better than the rest of theworld. Lies simply appall and disgust him immensely. Marlow feels there is a”taint of death, and a flavor of mortality in lies.” Lying makes himfeel “miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do.”Since he feels this way, he would only tell a lie in the most exceptional stateof affairs.
The first lie was told by Marlow in extraordinary circumstances. Itwas told because he had a notion it would somehow be of help to Mr. Kurtz. Thelie was to allow the brick maker to think he had more influence in the companythan he actually had. This lie would help Kurtz in two ways. Firstly, it wouldhelp Marlow to get the rivets he needed to fix the boat, and that would provideKurtz with a means of communication, or a way out of the jungle.
Secondly, itwould provide Kurtz with an ally who was perceived as powerful. Marlow knew thatothers were jealous of the success of Mr. Kurtz. Some saw him as the next”Director of the Company,” and some were trying to find a reason tohang him. If Marlow was considered powerful, he might be able to help Mr. Kurtzin some way. This is an excellent reason for telling a lie.
The second lie wasalso told in extraordinary circumstances. It is told to “the intended”so that the image of her dead fiancée would not be destroyed. She haswaited at least two years for her lover to return from Africa, and now he isdead. During this time, she has built his image up in her mind. To her, Kurtz isa man to be admired. She feels it would be “impossible not to lovehim.” She was proud to have been engaged to Kurtz, and would be shocked tolearn of the things he had done to people and the surrounding environment.
Marlow had to decide if he should tell her the truth about Kurtz and cause hereven greater grief, or let her go on believing that he was a good man. Thus,this example was one in which Marlow could tell a lie. The significance of thislie is that it would serve no purpose to tell the truth, so Marlow does not.
Kurtz is dead and to tell the truth would only hurt an innocent woman. She hadno idea that her fiancée had an evil heart. She thought that he was lovedand admired by everyone who knew him. If she learned of the things he had done,it would destroy her. Marlow showed his good side by not telling her the truthabout Kurtz. This is a suitable ending to the work because it means that eventhough Marlow has met a man with a “Heart of Darkness,” and that evenafter facing his own darkness, he has come out of the jungle unchanged, for themost part. He is still a good human being with feelings and a sense of right andwrong.
Marlow never actually vocalized a lie. He simply allowed others tocontinue to believe an untruth. First, the brick maker thought Marlow was moreinfluential than he actually was, and Marlow allowed him to continue to believethat. Secondly, the intended thought her fiancé was a good man, and Marlowallowed her to continue to believe that. Since he never actually vocalized alie, he was better able to justify them to himself.
Marlow dislikes lies, andonly tells them in extraordinary circumstances. When he does lie, it is for thesake of others, not himself. This shows that he is a kind human being. It isunfortunate that all lies are not told with such noble purpose. Society, as wellas the world, would be a better place if they were.