Heart Of Darkness By Joseph Conrad There have been few novels that have had the ability to change my perspectives about life and the world around us. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is not one of them. Not because I disagree with or dislike his work. He cant, after all, change my outlook on life if he and I share the same opinions. One such thing 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 say that our opinions and views of Kurtz do not change.
Far from it. However, as Marlows myopic views of Kurtz melt away in the light of truth (which ironically revealed nothing but darkness), ours do as well. Our view of Kurtz is that he is a great man. A man that defies description and conventional beleif and methods. A man who “all Europe” was responsible for the making of.
Put simply, Kurtz appears to be that last bastion of civilization in the “Heart of Darkness.” The reader begins to want to see Kurtz in order to experience his greatness. Kurtz Kurtz Kurtz. Its truly all one can think about. We HAVE to see Kurtz so that we will find out just what all the hubbub is about. As I said before, our views parallel Marlows.
Marlow becomes obsessed with Kurtz and reaching 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” are capable of when the ties that bind are cut. He then hears that “all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.” “Ah,” Marlow thinks, “Perhaps there is some civility out in this Godforsaken corner of the earth.” Which explains why 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, we realize 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 a bastion 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 his whims. He steals, lies, cheats, has sex with some, and kills others and performs”unspeakable rites” that are apparently so depraved that Marlow either cannot or will not discuss them. He has become a creature of chaos. He has become a creature of evil. Although we realize that Kurtz is a monster, we still recognize him as a great and respected person.
The natives have deified him. That he holds such influence over large amounts of people, both European and Native, speaks very highly of him. Our views of Kurtz eventually come full circle: from a great, good man, to a great, evil one. Marlow has a lot of difficulty dealing with Kurtz and what has become of him. Or perhaps I should say 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 what Marlow might have become. This bit of information is one of the main premises of the book: what do you get when you strip away the varnish of civilization from a man? 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 by nature. We all have evil within us, and if you were to remove us from the civilization that created us, then we would become what we truly are. Kurtz made a deal with the devil; the devil within.
Marlow realizes this and the thought of it frightens him because he knows that the same thing could very well happen to him, which is one of the reasons, I beleive that Marlow expressed the ultimate truth at the end of the book with a lie. He saw what he might have become, and he 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 was Kurtz-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 his opinions toward him. Marlow is fundementally unreliable and partial in his capacity as a first person narrator.
He says damning things about Kurtz in some parts, but he always relents and always stuck with him to the bitter end. Why? I think it is because of the bond that the two shared, each one realizing that the other is what he might have become. That being said, Kurtzs tragic flaw is that 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 the Truth found KURTZ, it ate him alive. The villain of this story is not so easy to define.
It is niether good nor evil. It is the truth purely, and simply. Kurtz and Marlow both found the truth in different ways. Kurtz, by engulfing himself in darkness and Marlow clinging to the white marble of his civility like a baby to its bottle. They arrived at their conclusions at the same time, although Kurtz was made to realize it first.
When Kurtzs Black and Marlows White came together, it formed The Gray, the vast and empty nothingness that both men experienced. It was life; hollow, nihilistic, empty, and pointless. This was the last thing Kurtz ever saw. Oh, “the horror” of it all. Too much truth can hurt.
It utterly destroyed both men. Sure, Marlow is alive, but is he really living? No, I do not think he is. The truth shattered him and all of the precepts he held dear. He is a shell of a man and nothing more, while Kurtz is even less than that. Sometimes there are things better left in the dark.
Heart of Darkness is a journey, not to the center of the jungle, but rather to the center of the soul. I must agree with Mr. Conrad about his beliefs on what humans 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 and metaphorically engulfed in darkness, never to see the light of day. Humans are not good by nature. It is so-called civilization that alters us. It is like a drug. 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 and look inside what we would see would be truly.. horrible.