.. elsewhere. The Europeans apply the terms ‘enemy’ and ‘criminals’ to the natives. In actuality, they are simply “bewildered and helpless victims..and moribund shadows”(Berthoud. 46). Clearly, the injustice done by the simple misnaming of someone is unbelievable.
After witnessing all of these names which bare no true meaning, as well as possibly degrade a person’s character, Marlow understands that he can not continue in his former ways of mindlessly giving random names to something in fear of diminishing the essence of the recipient. As a result, Marlow finds himself unable to label something for what it is. While under attack, Marlow reefers to the arrows being shot in his direction as “sticks, little sticks”, and a spear being thrown at his boat “a long cane”(75–77). When Marlow arrives at the inner station, he sees “slim posts..in a row” with their “ends ornamented with round carved balls”(88). In truth, these are poles with skulls on top of them.
Marlow can formulate a name even for the simplest of things. Taking a step back and looking at his voyage, Marlow realizes the insignificant, mindless, meaningless ‘labels’ which the Europeans use to identify with something, and he wants to be able to”give to experience, names that have some substance”. At this point, he is similar to Adam in the Garden of Eden who is “watching the parade of nameless experience” go by. However, Marlow is missing an essential thing which Adam possessed. As opposed to Adam, who was delegated by G-d to name experiences, Marlow lacked this authority to name. It is Kurtz who will become this authority, and eventually teach Marlow the essence of a name(Johnson.
76). Mr. Kurtz is the Chief of the Inner Station. He is a “universal genius, a prodigy, an emissary of pity science and progress”(40-45). It is Kurtz who will teach Marlow what a name is, for one simple reason.. “The man presented himself as a voice..of all his gifts, the one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words—the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating..(79).” Kurtz was “little more than a voice”(80), but there was no one with a voice like his.
He could speak with remarkable eloquence, he could write with such precision.. he could name with true meaning! “You don’t talk with that man[Kurtz], you listen to him”(90)! Marlow has heard enough about Kurtz, in this case from his devoted pupil, to know that it is he who can provide Marlow with the authority to offer”correct and substantial names”(Johnson. 76). Indeed, Kurtz gives Marlow everything Marlow is looking for. However, he does it in a very unconventional way. Kurtz teaches Marlow the lesson with his last words. “The horror! The horror!”(118).
These last words are Kurtz’s own judgment, judgment on the life which he has lived. He is barbarous, unscrupulous, and possibly even evil. However, he has evaluated at his life, and he has “pronounced a judgment upon the adventures of his soul on this earth”(118). Marlow sees Kurtz “open his mouth wide—it gave him a weirdly voracious aspect, as though he wanted to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men before him..”(101). Kurtz takes everything in. He takes his life, and puts it all out on the table.
“He had summed up— he had judged..The horror!”(119). Kurtz’s last words is his way of teaching Marlow the essence of a name. A name is not merely a label. It is one man’s own judgment of an isolated event. However, unlike the Europeans who judge based on already existing principles which they have ‘acquired’, Kurtz taught Marlow to look inside of himself and to judge based on his own subjective creeds.
While Marlow is recounting the story, he says to his comrades: “He must meet that truth with his own true stuff—with his own inborn strength. Principles won’t do. Acquisitions, clothes, prettyrags—rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief. An appeal to me in this fiendish row—is there? Very well; I hear; I admit, but have a voice too, and for good or evil mine is the voice that can not be silenced (60).” This is the lesson which Marlow has learned. Objective standards alone will not lead one to recognize the reality in something. One can not only depend on anther’s principles to find his reality in something because they have not had to bear the pain and responsibility of creating it.
Principles are usually acquisitions, which like other things we acquire rather than generate, like clothes are easily shaken off. The power of speech which will sustain a man is the power to create or affirm for one’s self a deliberate, or a chosen belief (Bruce Johnson. 79). This judgment must be from one’s own internal strengths. That is why Marlow says, “for good or evil, mine is the speech that can not be silenced”. As Kurtz has taught him with his own judgment, a judgment of truth overpowers morality. To find one’s own reality, one must not rely solely on other people’s morality, others people’s ‘principles’ and he must assess his own life.
What Kurtz did is that he showed that regardless of whether the truth is good or bad, one must face up to his reality. He must face up to his own actions even when the conclusion is”the horror”, and by doing so, he will find his true reality. Marlow understands that being true to yourself is not following anther’s moral code, but being able to judge one’s self honestly and uncover their own reality. It is because of this understanding that Marlow claims that Kurtz’s last words is “a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats..”(120). Despite Kurtz’s immoral ways, he is victorious because he didn’t run away from the truth; and that is his moral victory. He is true to himself.! On his voyage, Marlow notices at one of the stations, a picture that Kurtz had drawn when he was there.
It is a”sketch in oils on a panel representing a woman draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch. The background was sombre—almost black”(40). At the time, Marlow didn’t really know what it meant. However, this is a precise representation of Kurtz himself. Firstly, the background was”sombre—almost black”. This is a manifestation of Kurtz because his life is full of darkness.
He kills, he steals, and he is worshipped as a god. Kurtz cannot be without blackness and survive. In addition, the picture displays the lesson itself. It is a picture of the lady of justice holding a torch. This is Kurtz’s role. Unlike Europe, which imposes their principles upon others, he is merely there to “illuminate”(79).
Kurtz is there to expand the peoples minds, to introduce them to a broad new spectrum of reality. However, he does not impose his own reality upon them. Hence, he is blindfolded in the picture. To him, they make a subjective decision and they find their own truth, regardless of what that truth may be. That is his lesson.
Eventually Marlow realizes that Kurtz’s picture was in essence, a self portrait. The same thing which Kurtz conveyed with ‘the horror’, he conveyed with this picture. Marlow’s realization is evident with this remark. “I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what’s in the work—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others”(47). Marlow learns the essence of ‘naming’ and understands what it means to ‘be yourself’. However, Marlow has encountered two extremes.
The European mentality, which is completely oblivious to reality, and Kurtz, a man who has found his reality, but it is one of horror and no restraint from any wrongdoing. He is now returning to his home to deal with his former world, however, he now possesses his new ‘understanding’. Marlow cannot return to his previous ‘European ways’ simply because he has ‘been enlightened’ and lost his naivete. However, why can’t he adapt Kurtz’s ways and live the other extreme? At one point, Marlow had “peeped over the edge”(119). Why didn’t he ‘jump over’? Marlow is repelled from joining Kurtz for several reasons.
Firstly, Kurtz had “kicked himself loose from the earth..he had kicked the earth to pieces. He was alone, and I[Marlow] before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air”(112). Kurtz had denied any sort of moral convictions in order to be worshipped as a god. Because of this unmonitered power, Kurtz lost all sense of restraint and became the savage that he was. Marlow, however, has not lost his sense of morality. What Marlow rejected in Kurtz was the “complete absence in Kurtz of any innate or transcendental sanctions” (Johnson.
99). It is because of Marlow’s rejection of both the Europeans, who Marlow claims are full of “stupid importance”, and of Kurtz’sinability to establish his own moral code, that Marlow chooses an “alternative reality”(Berthoud. 60). The first time the reader witnesses Marlow’s choice and becomes a centrist, is when he first gets back to Europe. Marlow finds himself resenting the way the Europeans went about their life, “hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other..”(120).Not only did he find their lives meaningless, but he mocked them to himself.
“I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty restraining myself from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance.. I tottered about the streets..grinning bitterly at perfectly respectable people. I admit my behavior was inexcusable..” (120). Although Marlow looked down upon these Europeans, he says something remarkable. He judged his own actions and found them ‘inexcusable’.
This is his manifestation of breaking away from Kurtz’s extreme. Unlike Kurtz who lacked all restraint and would never find looking down on people bad, Marlow realized that he couldn’t hold it against them simply because they didn’t know better. Clearly, Marlow is edging toward a ‘middle ground’. Despite this act of judgment, the reader doesn’t know exactly where Marlow stands. However, Marlow does something that is the quintessential act of affirmation that he has chose the middle of the two extremes.
While aboard the Nellie, Marlow tells his comrades that “I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie..simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies..”(44). Towards the end of the novel, Marlow is invited by Kurtz’s fiancee to go to her house to speak of her beloved Kurtz. Upon her asking Marlow what his last words were, Marlow responded “The last word he pronounced was—your name”(131). He lies to her. He does something he utterly detests.
This is the event that convinces the reader of Marlow’s uptaking of a middle position. He does look inside himself and use his own personal ability to judge this event. He does what Kurtz had told him. Despite his abhorrence of lies, he judges this situation and decides that it was right to lie. However, he is different from Kurtz. Kurtz did judge every event independently, however, he does it solely based on his own whims. He could not incorporate any objective principles whatsoever in making his decision.
Marlow does judge every event independently, however, he can not rely solely on his own creeds. Regardless of his decision, he will always incorporate some objective principles into his judgment. Marlow now creates his ‘alternative reality’ and achieves his truth. When Marlow was exposed to the imperialistic environment of the congo, it had a tremendous effect upon him. The protagonist of Conrad’s novel undergoes a drastic change in response to his environment, common only to that specific time period.
Kurtz shows Marlow the flaws in the Europeans imperialistic ideals. Kurtz sees the meaninglessness of European standards of the time, and therefore changes his entire perception and behavior.