The Heart of Darkness
Published 30 Mar 2017
The Heart of Darkness treats the darkness in its various forms of representation during the Victorian Age. Conrad used it to symbolize the unknown, the uncivilized, the dark motives of civilization and Imperialism, and even the dark inclinations of men. The story uses the character of Kurtz to reflect these dark inclinations of men; first unknown to him and continues to persists when it is already known.
One of the most important symbolisms discussed in the story, as the title itself suggests, is the symbolism of darkness. Indeed, darkness had been used in the story, both literally and symbolically, to reveal Conrad’s view of the world. But most especially, the symbol was used to represent human understanding. Kurtz final words: “The horror! The horror!” has also something to do with the story’s theme of darkness. The “horror” which Kurtz is referring to is man’s failure to recognize what really is, in contrast to what he believes is supposed to. It was darkness when one believes he is doing the right thing, but has instead, without him noticing it, succumbed to the greed and other acts which are contrary to morality. Marlow gave us a hint to this. He said about these words: “this was the expression of some sort of belief; it had candour, it had conviction, it had a vibrating note of revolt in its whisper, it had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth—the strange commingling of desire and hate” (Part 3).
Kurtz was first introduced to be mad. However, as the reader goes on the story, we are presented that he is a man of many talents. We learn, among others, that he is a gifted musician, a fine painter, an eloquent writer, and a character full of charisma able to lead men. Marlow is presented to us as very eager to meet with the man. Kurtz is a legend not only among the natives, but even with his fellow white men. Nevertheless, he was led to his own downfall of his own doings. In this light, he is presented as highly gifted but degenerate. His fraternizing with the natives incurred the hatred of his fellow white men. In the story, we are told that Marlow is supposed to get Kurtz back to civilization. The natives, however, attacked Marlow’s ship in an attempt to prevent Kurtz from being taken. As soon as Marlow understands the man, he begins to ponder as to the real sanity of Kurtz. Marlow refers to him as hollow, yet he refers to him as a remarkable man. Bottom line is that we are presented with a Kurtz that is neither entirely good nor entirely evil.
It was clearly presented to us that Kurtz displayed greed. In the words of Marlow: “My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my–‘ everything belonged to him” (Part 2). Here we are also presented “how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own” (Part 2). Marlow claimed it to be caused by Kurtz “utter solitude… by way of utter silence… where no warning voice of a kind neighbor can be heard whispering of public opinion” (Part 2). He further described Kurtz as having “the power to charm or frighten rudimentary souls into an aggravated witch-dance in his honour; he could also fill the small souls of the pilgrims with bitter misgivings” (Part 2). Yet, with all those negative characteristics Kurtz have been attributed, Marlow nonetheless recognized the good in him; that while Kurtz had filled souls with misgivings, there is one he had conquered that was neither rudimentary nor tainted with self-seeking.
Marlow had also appreciated Kurtz writings, describing it as “luminous and terrifying.” Furthermore, Marlow contemplated that Kurtz sometimes display childishness by desiring to have kings meet him on his return from some Nowhere where he intended to accomplish great things. Kurtz, himself, was liable for his reputation of having good character and of self-seeking. He mentioned once that “You show that you have in you something that is really profitable, and then there will be no limits to the recognition of your ability… Of course you must take care of the motives—right motives–always” (Part 3).
We are compelled to think that Kurtz knew of his wrongdoings. He said: “I had immense plans…And now for this scoundrel–” (Part 3). He was unable to finish, but the message is clear: he realized his mistake and is worrying, if it was for his future or for his impending death does not matter. Marlow emphasizes on it saying: “No eloquence could have been so withering to one’s belief in mankind as his final burst of sincerity… I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly by itself” (Part 3). “The horror! The horror” is an expression of “strange commingling of desire and hate” because a person desires to do what he believes, hate because he realizes the wrongness of it.
The final words of Kurtz as he died reflected only his acknowledgement of his own misguided life and despicable acts. The “horror” is a description of his inner darkness; a darkness that comes from the struggle against the realized the mistakes and the personal interest. That while one may have good intentions, he may come to realize that it is not for the better; or it may be that while one have already recognized his mistakes from wrong assumptions, he may be tempted to ignore it for the sake of self-interest.
- Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness.