Joseph Conrad’s Mouthpiece in This Novel
Marlow is one of the two narrators in Heart of Darkness; and he is the more important of the two. The first narrator, who remains un-named, merely serves to introduce Marlow to us and to acquaint us with some of the essentials of Marlow’s character and personality.Once Marlow begins to speak, the first narrator goes into the background and speaks only at long intervals when Marlow pauses for breath or when Marlow stops in his narration to brood upon something which he has said. Thus the first narrator is unimportant to the substance of the story, and to the major themes of the novel. It is Marlow who imparts weight and depth to the novel; and it is he who brings Mr. Kurtz to life in the course of his narration. It is also to be noted that Marlow in this novel speaks largely for Joseph Conrad himself. Heart of Darkness is largely a record of Conrad’s own visit to the
Marlow, Sitting in the Posture of a Buddha
The first narrator describes Marlow at the outset as a man having sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, and an ascetic aspect. He describes Marlow as sitting cross-legged in the posture of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower. At this time Marlow resembles an idol, an idol (or image) of the Buddha. Thus there is a spiritual element in his personality.
Marlow, a Seaman, and a Wanderer
The first narrator then gives us some particulars about Marlow’s past life and about some of the basic traits of his character. He tells us that Marlow was a seaman, but also a wanderer. The common seaman is interested only in his life on the sea; and, when a seaman has to stay for a time on the shore or in the interior of a country, he does not take any interest in his surroundings. Marlow was a different kind of seaman. He was as interested in his experiences on the land as he was in his experiences on the sea. Besides, the yarns which Marlow told were different from the kind of yarns which seamen in general are in the habit of telling.
Marlow’s View About the Conquests of the Ancient Romans
When Marlow himself begins to speak, he first tells his listeners (who include the first narrator also) that there was a time when
itself was a country inhabited by barbarians. He takes his listeners back to ancient times, to a time nineteen hundred years ago when Britain was invaded by the Romans who had achieved a high degree of civilization while the people of Britain were yet living like savages. The ancient Romans, says Marlow, were conquerors who used brute force to gain their ends. The ancient Romans grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. The ancient Romans were mere robbers who committed robbery with violence, and who committed murder on a great scale. Their aim was conquest; and conquest, without an idea behind it, is meaningless. Meaningful conquest is that which has an idea behind it. Those invaders, whose conquests have any meaning, are inspired by an unselfish belief in the idea which prompts their conquests. Britain
The Fascination of the
With this preface, Marlow then begins his yarn. He tells his listeners a tale which proves to be an inconclusive tale. The tale, which he tells, is concerned with his own experiences in the course of his exploration of a dark country. This dark country was the
which had fascinated Marlow in his very boyhood. As a little chap, Marlow had a passion for maps; and, in the course of his study of maps, he had often looked at countries which had not yet been explored. He had particularly been attracted by a country which had come to be known as the Congo , and which had only partially been explored by the white men. The main river of this country also had the name of the Congo ; and this river, as shown on a map, had particularly fascinated him. It was a mighty big river, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its body at rest, curving over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land. This river had fascinated the boy Marlow as a snake would fascinate a silly bird. Congo
The Fulfilment of a Boyhood Ambition
Marlow then tells his listeners that, as a grown-up man with plenty of experience of sailing upon the distant seas, he was able to achieve the fulfilment of his desire dating from his boyhood. It was through the influence of an aunt of his that he had been able to secure a job as the skipper of a steamship owned by a Belgian trading Company. From this it becomes clear to us that the impressions, which Marlow had formed as a boy about the
Congo river and the country known as the , had exercised a permanent influence upon him, and further that Marlow was a man of great firmness and determination. In order to fulfill an ambition he had formed as a boy, he had subsequently given up seamanship for a time in order to become a fresh-water sailor so as to be able to sail upon the Congo Congo river flowing through the dark country also called the . Congo
Humorous Portrayals By Marlow With Sombre Reflections
Marlow gives his listeners an interesting account of his. interview with the boss of the trading Company which appointed him to the post of a skipper of one of its steamboats. He gives his listeners a vivid description of the atmosphere in the office of that trading Company, and he gives them an even more vivid and more interesting description of the persons whom he met there. Marlow here shows his gift for observing and depicting the physical appearance and the oddities of the persons with whom he comes into contact. His portrayal of the two knitting women is very interesting indeed; and it has a symbolic purpose also. We feel greatly amused by the manner in which these knitting women are portrayed by Marlow but, at the same time, we feel somewhat awed’ by this portrayal because Marlow sees these two women as supernatural’ beings presiding over the fate of human beings who go to unknown lands and face unknown dangers. Marlow’s portrayal of the doctor, who examines him, is also very interesting. This doctor examines not only Marlow’s body but also Marlow’s head and skull. This doctor is interested in the working of the human mind and in the changes which take place in the mind of an individual who undergoes certain unusual experiences in remote countries. In fact, this doctor is a kind of psychologist or psychiatrist in addition to being a physician. Then Marlow’s portrayal of his aunt is also very interesting. In his opinion, most women including his aunt live in a dream-land which’ is divorced from the realities of life. Marlow inwardly disagrees with his aunt’s view that the white man goes to backward countries in order to civilize the savages living there; and he here says that women in general are very much out of touch with the truth. Marlow also gives us considerable evidence of his sense of humour in depicting the two knitting women, the Company doctor, and his own aunt; but, at the same time, these humorous portrayals are interspersed with sombre reflections. After having left his aunt’s house, Marlow feels that he is going not to the centre of a continent but to the centre of the earth. This is certainly a sombre thought.
Marlow’s Vivid Descriptions of Natural Scenery
Marlow then begins his account of his journey from a Belgian port to the
; and here we note at the very outset Marlow’s gift of vivid description. He describes natural scenery as vividly as he has previously described the city sights such as the offices of the trading Company and the people who work there. Incidentally, his impression of the city of Congo is not a cheering one. The sight of this city makes him think of a “whited sepulchre.” In other words, Brussels seems to him to be a city which is outwardly civilized and pleasant but which is inwardly corrupt and degraded. This shows Marlow’s disillusionment with the life of sophistication being led by the people in European cities which are regarded as centres of learning and culture. Then Marlow gives his listeners a fascinating description of the scenery which he witnesses in the course of his voyage by a French steamer on which he is only a passenger. Here is a specimen of the kind of description in which Marlow specializes: Brussels
The edge of a colossal jungle, so dark-green as to be almost black, fringed with white surf, ran straight, like a ruled line, far, far away along a blue sea whose glitter was blurred by a creeping mist. The sun was fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. (Page 39)
Subsequently, we find further evidence of Marlow’s descriptive gift on almost every page of the novel. Graphic description and vivid imagery constitute one of the most striking features of this novel; and the imagery is mostly concrete though we have several examples of abstract imagery also.
Aimless Activity, Witnessed By Marlow,
Marlow repeatedly provides evidence of his vast powers of observation as well as his capacity for vivid description. When he alights from the Swedish captain’s sea-going steamer, and walks towards the Company’s station, he observes various sights on the way. He sees a lot of people, mostly black and naked, moving about like ants. Then he comes upon a boiler lying in the grass and serving no purpose at all. Next, he comes upon some pieces of decaying machinery and a heap of rusty rails. Then he finds a rock being blasted with the use of gunpowder, without any particular aim behind that blasting. Then he sees half a dozen black natives chained to one another, and each having an iron collar on his neck. These men are criminals who are being subjected to hard labour as their punishment. These various sights seen by Marlow show the state of affairs prevailing in- the
Belgian Congo which was actually visited by Conrad himself. These sights show the futility of human existence in this part of the world and also of the white man’s purposeless activities here because the machinery had evidently been brought here by the white people under the orders of the Belgian government.
Marlow’s Neat Summing-up of the Characters of Various Persons
Marlow then encounters the chief accountant of the trading Company on whose behalf Marlow has come to the
. And here once again we notice Marlow’s gift of portraying the individuals whom he happens to meet. Indeed, here we are given a series of vignettes. Not only are we given a convincing portrayal of the chief accountant but also, soon afterwards, that of the manager of the central station, the brick-maker who makes no bricks, and the manager’s uncle who arrives in the Congo as the leader of an exploring expedition. In all these cases, Marlow makes us feel that we have actually met each of these persons. Marlow gives us, in each case, not only the physical appearance but also the main traits of character. Indeed, Marlow shows his capacity to probe the mind of everybody whom he meets and his capacity to assess and sum up the character of each man. The chief accountant not only keeps his account-books in “apple-pie order” but also keeps himself flawlessly dressed. Marlow feels amazed to see this man neatly and elegantly dressed at a place where it is not at all necessary to dress so punctiliously. Marlow begins to respect this fellow because of his neat dress and also because of his book-keeping, because in Marlow’s opinion this fellow’s capacity to keep up appearances is in itself an achievement of character. Similarly on meeting the manager of the Central Station of the Company, Marlow measures up the man quickly, finding that this man is certainly obeyed but that he inspires neither love, nor fear, nor even respect. The manager inspires only uneasiness. And then Marlow sums up the manager’s character by saying that “perhaps there was nothing within him.” Thus Marlow sees a man not only from the outside but also from the inside. He is able also to judge the character of the white traders whom he sees idling about at the Central Station. He describes these men as “faithless pilgrims.” Then Marlow’ comes across a brick-maker whom he fords to be an inquisitive man wanting to know exactly the extent of Marlow’s influence and Marlow’s connection with the bosses of the Company, and wanting also to find out how far Marlow can prove useful to him in his desire for promotion in the service of the Company. About this man also, Marlow gives us a more or less complete picture. Having no solid work to do, the brick-maker functions as the manager’s spy, says Marlow. The brick-maker gives Marlow a lot of information about Mr. Kurtz though the brick-maker’s praise of Mr. Kurtz is largely hypocritical. Inwardly the brick-maker dislikes Mr. Kurtz as much as the manager dislikes that man; but outwardly the brick-maker describes Mr. Kurtz as a prodigy, as a messenger of pity, of science, of progress, and of many other virtues. Finally, Marlow describes the brick-maker as a “papier-mache Mephistopheles.” Congo
Marlow strikes us as being quite a philosopher. Indeed, we may describe him as both a psychologist and a philosopher. As a psychologist, be is able to judge the inside of human beings and to probe the working of their minds; and, as a philosopher, he speculates about the inner truth of things. For instance, while commenting upon the motives of the brick-maker in talking to him, Marlow says that, on the basis of this man’s remarks about Mr. Kurtz, he was unable to visualise Mr. Kurtz with any degree of precision. In this context, he also says that at this time Mr. Kurtz’s name was just a word for him, and that he could not see the man behind the name. At this stage, Mr. Kurtz was only a kind of dream, Marlow further says. Then, in a philosophical vein, Marlow adds that it is impossible to express the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence, and that it is impossible to express the truth, the meaning, the subtle and penetrating essence of any epoch. Marlow then says: “We live as we dream––alone”. Here Marlow evidently refers to man’s loneliness in this universe; and the idea of man’s loneliness on this planet is one of the central themes of modem literature. In the same context, Marlow also gives us a bit of self-analysis. Here he delves into his own mind and tells his listeners about his hatred of falsehood. Here is what he says about himself:
You known I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appals me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies––which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world––what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do. (Page 57)
These lines throw lot of light on Marlow’s temperament and nature.
In connection with the work which Marlow has to do to pull out the wrecked ship from the river-bed and to repair it in order to set it afloat, Marlow describes his work-ethic. He is a believer in work, and he feels attracted towards those people who do their work efficiently and conscientiously. We have already noted his appreciation of the accountant who kept his account-books in perfect order. Now, when he has to toil upon the wrecked steamship, he says that this work gave him a chance to find out what he could do to discover his own inner self. This is how he describes the benefit which work brings to a man:
No, I don’t like work. I had rather laze about and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don’t like work––no man does––but I like what is in the work––the chance to find yourself. Your own reality––for yourself, not for others-what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and can never tell what it really means. (Pages 59-60)
Such, then is Marlow’s work-ethic.
Some More Character-Study; and Some More Philosophical Comments
Soon afterwards Marlow comes across another man, namely the leader of an exploring expedition. This man is the uncle of the manager of the Central Station. After overhearing a bit of talk between the manager and his uncle, Marlow feels confirmed in his earlier opinion about the manager, and he finds, too, that the uncle is as vicious and crooked a man as the nephew. He finds that both these men are plotters and schemers, and that both of them have a strong dislike of Mr. Kurtz. Thus Marlow feels disillusioned even about the reality of a man who has brought a hatch of adventurous fellows into the
for purposes of exploration though Marlow is unable to discover what really these men wish to discover. The private conversation, which the manager and his uncle have had together and which has been overheard by Marlow, produces one good effect upon Marlow. So far he had been feeling indifferent towards Mr. Kurtz, but now his curiosity about Mr. Kurtz is aroused, and he begins to feel rather excited at the prospect of meeting that man. As he is still busy repairing the steam-ship, which has been pulled out of the river-bed, he has another philosophical comment to offer upon the virtue of work. In this context, he says that work enables a man to understand the surface reality of things, though not the inner reality. The inner truth of things, says Marlow, is hidden from a man, and it remains hidden though a man may be able to feel it. But the surface-reality one can always discover when one has to attend to the details of one’s routine duties. While sailing upon the steamship after it has been fully repaired, Marlow has to face certain difficulties because it is the first time that he is functioning as a fresh-water sailor. As the skipper of a steam-ship sailing upon a river, he compares himself to a blind-folded man who is asked to drive a motor-truck over a bad road; and he then says in this connection: “I sweated and shivered over that business considerably. I don’t pretend to say that steamboat floated all the time. More than once she had to wade for a bit, with twenty cannibals splashing around and pushing.” Then Marlow proceeds to acquaint us with the character of these cannibals who could exercise self-restraint in a situation where self-restraint was almost impossible. These cannibals, in their state of hunger, would have liked to attack the white men on board the steamship in order to eat their flesh, but they did not do so, thus showing their self-control. Congo
Observation; Description; Building up Suspense
Once again we are struck by Marlow’s exceptional powers of observation and description. As the steam-ship, of which he is the skipper, sails onwards, Marlow witnesses the scenery on the river-banks arid describes it thus:
“Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high; and at their foot, hugging the bank against the stream, crept the little begrimed steamboat like a sluggish beetle crawling on the floor of a lofty portico. It made you feel very small, very lost, and yet it was not altogether depressing, that feeling……We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there …… We were wanderers on pre-historic earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet……But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. (Page 68)
Here, while describing the scenery on the river-banks, Marlow also builds up an atmosphere of suspense by speaking about the native savages, large numbers of whom have gathered close to the river and are gazing at the steamship stealthily. Later, the steamship is attacked by these savages, though Marlow is able to drive them away by ingeniously blowing the, engine-whistle of the ship. Marlow’s powers of observation, description, and building up of suspense show him to be an excellent story-teller who can hold the attention of his listeners without losing his grip upon them.
A Philosophical Comment Having Psychological Value
In the same context, Marlow makes another of his philosophical comments upon human life and the reactions of human beings to sights which have something frightening or a touch of the supernatural. This philosophical comment also throws some light upon human nature and once again shows Marlow as a psychologist. The mind of man, says Marlow, is capable of anything because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future. In order to face unknown and mysterious dangers, a man must have some true stuff within himself. To face such dangers, a man must show his own inborn strength. Principles and worldly possessions would not serve much purpose in these situations. What is needed is a deliberate belief born of inner strength.
Marlow’s Able Psycho-Analysis of the Russian
A Russian traveller is another man whom Marlow encounters and whom he describes in some detail, and with great psychological precision. This man looks like a harlequin (or a clown) because of his multi-coloured clothes. This Russian tells Marlow a good deal about Mr. Kurtz. The Russian has spent a lot of his time in Mr. Kurtz’s company, and has studied him at close quarters. Marlow is greatly impressed by this Russian’s devotion to, and admiration for, Mr. Kurtz. Indeed, the Russian regards Mr. Kurtz as an immortal person worthy of being worshipped and adored. The Russian shows himself indeed to be a hero-worshipper because of his glorification of Mr. Kurtz. Among other things, the Russian tells Marlow that the white men led by the manager of the Central Station harbour an active ill-will towards Mr. Kurtz; and Marlow shows his psychological insight by his description of this Russian’s attitude of adoration towards Mr. Kurtz. Indeed, Marlow’s description of the Russian comes very near a piece of able psycho-analysis. The Russian also tells Marlow, what nobody else could have told him, namely that Mr. Kurtz is very good at writing and reciting poetry. The Russian enlightens Marlow about the mystery behind the heads and skulls hanging from the poles stuck into the ground outside Mr. Kurtz’s residence. These heads and skulls, says the Russian, are those of the savages who had rebelled against the authority of Mr. Kurtz, and had been executed under Mr. Kurtz’s orders. The Russian’s talk about Mr. Kurtz magnifies Mr. Kurtz’s personality and genius in Marlow’s eyes, and in our eyes too.
Marlow’s View of Mr. Kurtz’s Character
Most important in this novel is Marlow’s analysis of the character and nature of Mr. Kurtz who is, after all, the central figure in the book. Marlow has heard a lot about Mr. Kurtz from the accountant of the Company, from the manager of the Central Station, from the brick-maker and, above all, from the Russian. He has come to know from them about Mr. Kurtz’s passion for ivory, his love for the woman to whom he is engaged, his efficiency as the manager of the Company’s Inner Station, and his power and influence over the native savages. Marlow has also learnt about Mr. Kurtz’s identification with the savages, and his regular participation in their rites and customs. He has come to know that Mr. Kurtz has been presiding over the dances of the savages, ending always with “unspeakable rites.” In the company of these savages, Mr. Kurtz has himself become a savage, and has been satisfying all the primitive appetites and lusts which have surfaced in his nature because of his close and continuing association with them. Marlow has also come to know about Mr. Kurtz’s sense of ownership of everything around him. On the basis of all this information, Marlow has formed the impression that Mr. Kurtz is a demonic figure, and that most of Mr. Kurtz’s actions are of a diabolical nature. Marlow has come to the conclusion that Mr. Kurtz has taken “a high seat amongst the devils of the land,” and that Mr. Kurtz now belongs to “the powers of the darkness.” Marlow’s view is that Mr. Kurtz has become wholly evil, and has thus fallen to the lowest possible depth from the high aims and ideals, which at one time he used to cherish about the white man’s great capacity for doing good to the savages. Marlow has now found that Mr. Kurtz had been lacking in restraint in the gratification of his various lusts; and he has also found that Mr. Kurtz is “hollow at the core.”
Mr. Kurtz’s Eloquence
The only positive quality of Mr. Kurtz, which Marlow has come to know on the basis of what others have told him, is eloquence. Marlow has come to know that Mr. Kurtz is an impressive speaker, and that his eloquence in speech has the power to cast a spell upon all his listeners. In spite of Mr. Kurtz’s absorption in evil, Marlow himself becomes a great friend and admirer of Mr. Kurtz after having met him personally. Of course Marlow even now fords Mr. Kurtz talking repeatedly about his ivory, about his station, about his fiancee, and about his pursuit of power, and thus finds that the sense of possession has become uppermost in Mr. Kurtz’s mind. And yet there is something which draws Marlow to that man.
Marlow’s Action in Bringing Mr. Kurtz Back to the Ship
Marlow brings Mr. Kurtz back to the ship after Mr. Kurtz has slipped away from the cabin in order to rejoin the savages in response to the call of the wilderness. Here Marlow does a great service to Mr. Kurtz by preventing him from going back to the savages in his state of serious illness. Marlow would like Mr. Kurtz to go to
Europe for medical, treatment though, in the event, Mr. Kurtz breathes his last without being able to reach Europe. And here Marlow once again shows his capacity for psycho-analysis by his exploration of the motives with which Mr. Kurtz had slipped away from the cabin in order to go back into the jungle. Marlow says that Mr. Kurtz had, after hearing the sound of the drums being beaten by the savages, fallen once again under the spell of the wilderness. In other words, the wilderness had once again aroused the forgotten and brutal instincts in Mr. Kurtz by reminding him of his monstrous passions which he had been gratifying during his stay among the savages. The sound of the drums had brought back to his mind those abominable satisfactions which he had been experiencing in the course of his association with the savages with whom he had identified himself. It is with great difficulty that Marlow succeeds in bringing Mr. Kurtz back to the cabin. And once again Marlow has to blow the engine-whistle in order to drive away the natives who have collected on the river-bank in order to stop the steamship from taking Mr. Kurtz away from them.
Marlow’s Interpretation of Mr. Kurtz’s Last Words
Marlow now feels it necessary to spend some time every day in Mr. Kurtz’s company. He hears Mr. Kurtz speaking repeatedly of his ivory, his “intended”, his station, his career, and his ideas. Marlow hears Mr. Kurtz, speaking again and again in terms of wealth and fame, and speaking also in a manner which clearly shows his “inextinguishable gift of noble and lofty expression”, though sometimes Mr. Kurtz begins to speak in a childish and foolish manner. Eventually Mr. Kurtz dies, and Marlow hears the last words which Mr. Kurtz utters before he dies. Mr. Kurtz’s last words are: “The horror! The horror!” Marlow interprets these dying words of Mr. Kurtz as an “affirmation” and as showing the moral victory which Mr. Kurtz had been able to win in the end. In Marlow’s opinion, Mr. Kurtz had summed up his whole experiences of life in the words: “The horror.” These words, according to Marlow, were the expression of some sort of belief. These words had “candour” and “conviction”; and these words had the vibrating note of revolt in them. Furthermore, these words showed that Mr. Kurtz had glimpsed some truth while dying, a truth indicative of a strange commingling of desire and hate. Marlow goes on to say that Mr. Kurtz had experienced innumerable defeats, abominable terrors, and abominable satisfactions in the course of his life but that Mr. Kurtz had, at the end, won a victory. Having interpreted Mr. Kurtz’s dying words in this manner, Marlow then vows everlasting loyalty to that man. But, even apart from the last words spoken by Mr. Kurtz before dying, Marlow had developed strong feelings of friendship for that man and had become a strong admirer of his. It was because of his admiration for the man and his feeling of friendship for him that he had taken the risk of chasing him into the forest and bringing him back to the ship’s cabin at a great risk to his own life. At one point in the story, when Mr. Kurtz was still alive, Marlow tells us that Mr. Kurtz had been able to win over his mind and his soul. It is a proof of his loyalty to Mr. Kurtz’s memory that Marlow goes to see Mr. Kurtz’s fiancee who is still in mourning one year after Mr. Kurtz’s death, and to whom he delivers the packet of papers and the photograph which Mr. Kurtz had given him for safe custody. And now Marlow tells Mr. Kurtz’s fiancee a lie only to make it possible for her to experience a certain degree of satisfaction in her thoughts of her dead lover. When she asks him what Mr. Kurtz’s last word before death was, Marlow says that her own name was the last word which Mr. Kurtz had uttered before dying. Marlow’s telling this lie shows his-great friendship for Mr. Kurtz and his great consideration for the feelings of the woman whom Mr. Kurtz would have married if he had lived.
Marlow’s Moral Ambiguity
In the later stages of the story, we cannot help finding a certain contradiction in Marlow’s thinking. Indeed, we perceive a moral ambiguity in his attitude towards Mr. Kurtz. At one point Marlow says that Mr. Kurtz was constantly haunted by thoughts of ivory, of the position which he had attained in the service of the Company, and of the power which he had acquired over the natives. Marlow also says there that, although Mr. Kurtz thought that everything belonged to him, yet he himself belonged to “the powers of darkness” who would in the long run claim him as their own. Marlow further says there that Mr. Kurtz had taken a high seat among the devils of the land, and that Mr. Kurtz was “hollow at the core.” Thus, Marlow’s assessment of Mr. Kurtz is that the man is utterly and wholly evil, and yet we find Marlow becoming also an admirer of that man. We also find Marlow admitting that Mr. Kurtz had the power to charm or frighten rudimentary souls into submission to himself by means of his unbounded power of eloquence. At the same time, Marlow says that Mr. Kurtz had been able to conquer his (Marlow’s) soul which is neither rudimentary nor tainted with self-seeking. How is it that Marlow becomes a devoted friend and admirer of Mr. Kurtz in spite of his recognition of the evil in Mr. Kurtz? It cannot be merely Mr. Kurtz’s eloquence which can overwhelm a rational man like Marlow who possesses also a great fund of inner strength. Is it because Marlow’s own primitive instincts have been aroused by his contact with Mr. Kurtz who, during his stay among the savages, had become a slave of his primitive instincts which had been awakened and stimulated by his close association with the natives? It is difficult, indeed, to explain Marlow’s great admiration for Mr. Kurtz and his great devotion to Mr. Kurtz after Marlow has stated in clear terms that Mr. Kurtz had become wholly evil in the company of the natives and had lost all his nobility of mind and all his lofty aims and purposes. What is the mystery behind Marlow’s admiration for that man, we cannot say. There is something mysterious and indefinable in Mr. Kurtz which has begun to fascinate Marlow; and it is a fascination from which Marlow cannot recover even after Mr. Kurtz’s death. The only solution we can think of is to say that Marlow’s own primitive instincts have been aroused and brought to the surface in his mind because of his association with Mr. Kurtz. If Marlow had not soon afterwards returned to civilization, he too might have gradually descended to the level of savages. His own explanation of his friendship with Mr. Kurtz is that he had to choose between the way of life represented by the manager and his “pilgrims” and the way of life represented by Mr. Kurtz, and that he had decided to choose the latter. In this connection, he says that he had to choose between two nightmares, and that he chose the one symbolized by Mr. Kurtz. But the explanation merely confirms the view we have ourselves expressed above. The nightmare symbolized by Mr. Kurtz is wholly evil, while the nightmare represented by the manager is much less pernicious. Mr. Kurtz is a devil, while the manager is only a rogue or a ruffian or a blackguard or a crook or a mixture of all these plus a hypocrite and a mercenary.
The Blow to His Idealism
Marlow is undoubtedly a man of action because we see him not only as an adventurous fresh-water sailor but have also been told that he had been a seasoned seaman. And yet this man of action shows himself to be a kind of philosopher also. This man of action has a thoughtful mind, and he has a tendency to meditate and to brood upon what he observes. This man of action is a close observer of whatever he happens to see; and, whatever he sees, sets him thinking. At the same time, this man understands human psychology and is able to probe the minds of other people. With his adventurous nature, he combines the capacity to delve into the inner depths of those with whom he comes into contact. This man of action possesses practical sense in a great measure and is able to tackle the day-to-day problems of life and the problems which he encounters in the course of his exploration of the
. He is also a sort of idealist, with nothing petty or trivial about him. There is no evil in this man. He is not tainted by the commercialism and the greed of the white man; and he does not at any time stoop to any kind of meanness and baseness. His comments upon the various persons with whom he comes into contact clearly show his sound moral thinking, his perfect integrity, and his wholesome moral principles. And yet, in his attitude towards Mr. Kurtz, this man shows some sort of mental confusion and a kind of moral ambiguity. By his close association with Mr. Kurtz, his idealism suffers a great blow and might even have crumbled if he had prolonged his stay in the Congo and mingled freely with the savages. Congo
More Vignettes Provided By Mariow Towards the End
Towards the end of the story Marlow gives to his listeners a few more vignettes of the persons whom he happens to meet. Here we get fresh evidence of Marlow’s capacity to sketch a character is a few lines. There is the clean-shaved man, with an official manner and wearing gold-rim med spectacles, who first makes inquiries about Mr. Kurtz’s “documents” and then goes away, after giving Marlow some threat of legal proceedings. Then there is a fellow who claims to be Mr. Kurtz’s cousin and who is an organist with lank grey hair flowing over a greasy coat-collar. And then there is a journalist. All three have been portrayed by Marlow is a graphic manner. A brief physical description is in each case provided, with a couple of the traits of character.