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.