Friday, November 19, 2010

The Portrayal of Mr. Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness”

The First Reference to Kurtz in the Novel
The first reference to Mr. Kurtz comes when Marlow, ,in the very beginning of his narration, tells his listeners that he had first met the “poor chap” after sailing up the river Congo and reaching “the farthest point of navigation.” Here Marlow also tells his listeners that his meeting with Mr. Kurtz was the culminating-point of his experiences. This meeting, says Marlow, seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything wound him and also a light into his own thoughts.

The Accountant’s Description of Kurtz
Mr. Kurtz is first mentioned to Marlow by the chief accountant of the trading Company at its first trading post when Marlow arrives there after alighting from the Swedish captain’s steamer. The accountant informs Marlow that, when he (Marlow) goes into the interior of the country, he would undoubtedly meet that man, namely Mr. Kurtz. The accountant describes Mr. Kurtz as a “first class agent” of the Company, adding that Mr. Kurtz is a “very remarkable man.” The accountant then informs Marlow that Mr. Kurtz is at present in charge of a very important trading post in the interior of the country. The accountant goes on to say that Mr. Kurtz collects as much ivory for export as all the other agents of the Company put together. The accountant concludes his description of Mr. Kurtz by saying that Mr. Kurtz would soon rise to a high position in the administration, and that he might even become a member of the Council in Europe. From the tone and the manner in which the accountant talks about Mr. Kurtz, it becomes clear to us that the accountant is inwardly feeling somewhat jealous of Mr. Kurtz and is not very happy at the possibility of Mr. Kurtz rising to a high position one day. As there must be some reason for the accountant’s jealousy, we here form a mixed impression about Mr. Kurtz. While we do form a good opinion about him as an agent of the Company, we at the same time feel that there is something fishy about him somewhere.
Kurtz’s Importance, According to the Manager of the Central Station
The manager of the Central Station of the Company has also much to say about Mr. Kurtz to Marlow. The manager says that, according to rumours which have reached him, Mr. Kurtz, who is in charge of a very important trading station of the Company, has fallen ill. Marlow feels somewhat irritated by the manager’s mention of Mr. Kurtz. Marlow at this stage does not know how important a man Mr. Kurtz is; and therefore, on hearing the manager talk about Mr. Kurtz, he feels a little annoyed. Marlow feels sick of hearing about Mr. Kurtz when there are important matters for him to attend to and for the manager to talk about. But the manager still goes on to talk about Mr. Kurtz, saying that Mr. Kurtz is the best agent of the Company in the Congo, and that Mr. Kurtz is an exceptional man, of the greatest importance to the Company.
Kurtz, a Prodigy, and a Universal Genius, According to the Brick­Maker
A little later, Marlow happens to meet the brick-maker at the Central Station, and the brick-maker too has much to say about Mr. Kurtz. First of all, the brick-maker tells Marlow that the portrait of a woman, hanging upon the wall of his cottage, had been painted by Mr. Kurtz when Mr. Kurtz had halted at this station on his way to the trading post of which he was going to take charge. Marlow finds that the portrait shows a woman, draped and blind-folded, carrying a lighted torch against a black background. Marlow also observes that the effect of the torch-light on the face of the woman is somewhat sinister. By now Marlow’s curiosity about Mr. Kurtz has sufficiently been aroused, because everybody he has met has talked about Mr. Kurtz. Marlow now asks the brick-maker who Mr. Kurtz really is. The brick-maker says that Mr. Kurtz is a prodigy (that is, a wonderful man). The brick-maker then describes Mr. Kurtz as an emissary of pity, of science, of progress, and devil knows of what else. The brick-maker further says that this dark country, namely the Congo, needs the guidance of men of high intelligence, wide sympathies, and a singleness of purpose, implying’ that Mr. Kurtz is one such man. The brick-maker goes on to say that at present Mr. Kurtz is the chief of the best station of the Company in the Congo, but that next year Mr. Kurtz would become the assistant manager, and that two years later he would be somebody much more important. Thus the bricks maker expresses the same view about the great potentialities of Mr. Kurtz as the accountant had previously done. But the highest praise for Mr. Kurtz from the brick-maker comes when he describes Mr. Kurtz as “a universal genius.”
A Talk About Kurtz Between the Manager and His Uncle
Later still Marlow overhears a confidential talk between the manager and the manager’s uncle who is the leader of the Eldorado Exploring Expedition which has just arrived at the Central Station. This conversation between the manager and his uncle clearly reveals to Marlow that the manager is feeling greatly upset because of Mr. Kurtz’s increasing popularity in this region and because of the brightening possibilities of Mr. Kurtz rising to a high position under the Company and completely superseding him (the manager). The manager’s uncle also finds the idea of Mr. Kurtz’s becoming one day a powerful man to be most distasteful. However, the manager’s uncle expresses the hope that something would surely happen to destroy Mr. Kurtz’s chances of rising in life, and the further hope that the manager would never be superseded by Mr. Kurtz. From this conversation, it also appears that Mr. Kurtz had at one time, in the recent past, decided to return to Europe and had even travelled three hundred miles from his station, in order to return to Europe, but that he had then suddenly changed his mind and had gone back to his station. On this journey, Mr. Kurtz had brought a huge quantity of ivory with him. This ivory he had sent to the Central Station through an assistant of his, while himself going back to his own station in the interior of the country.
Marlow’s Interest in Kurtz, Aroused at This Point
After hearing this conversation between the manager and his uncle, Marlow for the first time thinks that he now knows Mr. Kurtz well enough. Mr. Kurtz’s decision to go back to his trading station after having actually set out on a journey to Europe, reveals to Marlow something basic about Mr. Kurtz’s character, though Marlow does not as yet feel very certain about the kind of man Mr. Kurtz is. Marlow gets the impression that Mr. Kurtz is simply a fine fellow who wishes to stick to his professional work for its own sake. In any case, from now on Marlow begins to feel a little more interested in Mr. Kurtz whereas formerly he had been absolutely indifferent to all talk about him.
The Profound Influence of the Wilderness Upon Kurtz’s Mind and Soul
Marlow hears more about Mr. Kurtz when, as the captain of the steamer, which he had managed to pull out of the river-bed and repair, he is sailing, in the manager’s company, towards Mr. Kurtz’s station. Marlow’s mission at this time is to help the manager to bring Mr. Kurtz from his station and send him to Europe because Mr. Kurtz has fallen seriously ill and needs immediate medical attention. When Marlow’s steamer is nearing its destination, it is attacked by the native savages from the jungle along the river bank. Marlow manages to drive away the savages by blowing the ship’s whistle, and it is around this time that the manager begins to talk to him at some length about Mr. Kurtz and Mr. Kurtz’s way of life. From the manager, Marlow learns that Mr. Kurtz was engaged to marry a certain girl to whom Mr. Kurtz often refers as “my intended”. The manager also tells Marlow that Mr. Kurtz’s love for his fiancee had been superseded by his passion for ivory. During his stay in the interior of the Congo, Mr. Kurtz had been losing his hair and becoming bald. It seemed that the surrounding wilderness had patted him on the head and had changed it into a ball, an ivory ball. Indeed, the wilderness seemed to have penetrated into the very being of Mr. Kurtz. The wilderness had caressed him, had taken him, had loved him, embraced him, entered his veins, consumed his flesh, and taken complete possession of his soul. According to the manager, Mr. Kurtz had become a spoiled and pampered favourite of the wilderness. As for ivory, Mr. Kurtz had collected heaps and heaps of it. It seemed that Mr. Kurtz had not left a single tusk of ivory anywhere in the Congo to be picked up by anybody else. However, the manager describes all this ivory, collected by Mr. Kurtz, as “fossil”. Marlow, however, says that the ivory collected by Mr. Kurtz was certainly not fossil. The manager, being jealous of Mr. Kurtz, speaks of this ivory in disparaging terms.
Kurtz’s Sense of Ownership of All Things
The manager also now informs Marlow that Mr. Kurtz had sometimes been speaking freely about his chief interests in life. Mr. Kurtz had been heard saying: “My ivory, my intended, my station, my river, my––.” From the way in which Mr. Kurtz talked, it would seem that everything belonged to him. Marlow at this time feels that Mr. Kurtz must be an unbalanced kind of man who had lost his sense of proportion. It seems to Marlow at this time that, if the wilderness were to hear Mr. Kurtz talking about his possessions, the wilderness would burst into a mocking laugh. It seems to Marlow that it is ridiculous and absurd on Mr. Kurtz’s part to talk of his intended, his ivory, his station, his river, etc. as if he were the owner of everything around him. It seems to Marlow that Mr. Kurtz thinks that everything belongs to him. In other words, Mr. Kurtz imagines himself to be the proprietor of all things far and near.
Kurtz’s High Seat Among the Devils of the Land
At this point a question arises in Marlow’s mind. If Mr. Kurtz thinks that everything belongs to him, the question to be asked is: to whom does Mr. Kurtz himself belong? And Marlow then supplies the answer to this question. Mr. Kurtz is now a man obsessed by a sense of possession. Mr. Kurtz is a man haunted by a sense of ownership. Mr. Kurtz has now been gripped, and taken hold of, by a kind of demon. Perhaps Mr. Kurtz is himself a demon now. If he is really a demon, then he belongs to the powers of darkness. Everything may belong to Mr. Kurtz, but Mr. Kurtz himself belongs to the powers of darkness. Thus, the powers of darkness would ultimately claim Mr. Kurtz as their own. Marlow then expresses the view that Mr. Kurtz has taken a high seat amongst the devils of the land. In other words, Mr. Kurtz now seems to Marlow to be an embodiment of evil. Mr. Kurtz now seems to be a sinister figure to Marlow. In fact, Marlow himself feels terrified by the thought of Mr. Kurtz having become a complete devil. Marlow feels so frightened of this idea that he has to make use of all his inner strength and all his innate moral power to withstand this idea.
Kurtz’s Views Before Coming to the Congo
Marlow now tells us certain important facts which he has come to know about Mr. Kurtz’s past life. Mr. Kurtz had been educated partly in England; and, in those days, his outlook upon life had been profoundly sound. Mr. Kurtz’s mother was half-English, and his father was half-French. All Europe had contributed to the making of Mr. Kurtz. On one occasion Mr. Kurtz had written a pamphlet at the request of the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. It was an eloquent piece of writing. He had produced seventeen pages of a closely-written report on the subject. In this report, he had begun with the argument that the white people had made so much progress that, when they went into backward countries, they were regarded by the savages there as supernatural beings and as deities. He had then expressed the view that the white people could do a lot to improve the conditions of life of the savages, and that they could exercise unlimited powers of benevolence for the good of the backward peoples of the world. However, at the end of this pamphlet, Mr. Kurtz had also written in a hurry: “Exterminate all the brutes.” Here was a strange contradiction, indeed. After having argued that the white people should strive to improve and civilize the savages, Mr. Kurtz had written at the end that the savages should be completely annihilated.
The Change in Kurtz After His Having Lived in the Congo
This report had been written by him when he had not yet come to the Congo. After coming to the Congo his outlook had been undergoing a change till he had himself become a part of the way of life of the savages. Now he had begun to participate in all the ceremonies and rites of the savages. He had begun to identify himself with the savages, and, by means of this identification, he had risen to the position of their supreme leader. Now he has been presiding over the midnight dances of the savages, and he has been presiding over the unspeakable rites with which these dances end. Strange to say, these rites were offered to him, that is, to Mr. Kurtz himself. In other words, he has become a god in the eyes of the savages who now worship and adore him.
A Russian Traveller’s High Regard for Kurtz
Marlow now meets a Russian who is on a tour of exploration in the Congo. This Russian has come into close personal contact with Mr. Kurtz and he has a lot to tell Marlow about that man. This Russian had become a devoted friend of Mr. Kurtz; and now he speaks to Marlow about that man in terms of glowing praise. He says that Mr. Kurtz, had become to intimate with him that he used to talk to him about everything, even about love. The Russian further says that Mr. Kurtz had enabled him to “see” things, that is, to understand things. The Russian then informs Marlow that he had nursed Mr. Kurtz through two illnesses.
Kurtz’s Influence Over the Savages; and His Passion for Ivory
In reply to a question by Marlow, the Russian says that Mr. Kurtz had not only been collecting ivory but also been exploring the surrounding region. In the course of his exploration, Mr. Kurtz had become very friendly with the natives. The native tribes had even begun to adore Mr. Kurtz and had become his followers. The natives had felt deeply impressed by Mr. Kurtz because they had never before seen or come across anybody like him. Mr. Kurtz had overwhelmed the natives with his personality and with his awful ways. Mr. Kurtz could be very terrible when it suited him. Mr. Kurtz, says the Russian, is not to be judged as an ordinary man is judged. On one occasion, Mr. Kurtz had threatened to shoot the Russian because the Russian had refused to surrender to Mr. Kurtz a small quantity of ivory which a village chief had given him as a present. As a consequence of that threat, the Russian had felt compelled to surrender the ivory to Mr. Kurtz. The Russian further informs Marlow that Mr. Kurtz is so powerful in this region that he can kill anyone whom he might wish to kill. But the most striking thing about Mr. Kurtz is his passion for ivory. Mr. Kurtz’s appetite for ivory had got the better of all his other material aspirations. Apart from all these traits and tendencies, the quality which distinguishes Mr. Kurtz from all other persons is his eloquence or his capacity to speak fluently and express his ideas in a most impressive and effective manner.
Something Wanting in Kurtz; Hollow at the Core
When Marlow’s steamer arrivers at Mr. Kurtz’s station, Mr. Kurtz is lying seriously ill at his residence. Here Marlow observes a large number of posts in front of Mr. Kurtz’s residence with a human head (or skull) stuck to the top of each post. The Russian informs Marlow that these are the heads of the men who had been executed under Mr. Kurtz’s orders because they had revolted against Mr. Kurtz’s authority. Marlow is shocked to see those heads and to learn that the heads were of those natives who had dared to disobey Mr. Kurtz in some way or the other. But Marlow is more surprised than shocked. A little later, the manager, talking to Marlow, expresses the view that Mr. Kurtz’s method of working had ruined the whole region. Marlow now thinks that Mr. Kurtz had been lacking in all restraint or self ­control in the gratification of his various lusts, and that there was something wanting in him. Marlow also now comes to the conclusion that, under Mr. Kurtz’s magnificent eloquence, there was something wanting, something which should have been there but which was not to be found there. Marlow now says that Mr. Kurtz was “hollow at the core.” However, the Russian does not accept Marlow’s view about Mr. Kurtz. The Russian says that Mr. Kurtz’s supremacy in this region is extraordinary and that even the chiefs of the various tribes come crawling to him every day in order to pay their homage to him. Thus Mr. Kurtz is a kind of god in the eyes of the natives.
The Pathetic Sight, Presented by Kurtz in His State of Illness
Then Mr. Kurtz is brought out of his residence on a stretcher by the manager and his assistants. A large number of savages have gathered at the spot to protest against his being taken away from this place. Mr. Kurtz is now too ill to insist upon staying on here; and, therefore, he speaks to the natives in a feeble voice, asking them to stop their protests and to disperse. At this time Mr. Kurtz’s condition is really pitiable. Marlow finds that, when Mr. Kurtz rises a little upon the stretcher to speak to the natives, his body presents a pathetic sight. It seems that Mr. Kurtz’s body is emerging from a shroud*. When Mr. Kurtz waves his arm to the crowd, the bones of his arm are clearly visible, and it seems to Marlow that an animated image of death, carved out of old ivory, is shaking its hand in a threatening manner at the assembled natives. Then Marlow sees Mr. Kurtz opening his mouth wide to speak to the crowd; and it seems to Marlow that Mr. Kurtz wants to swallow all the air, all the earth, and all the men before him. At Mr. Kurtz’s words of warning to the natives, they disperse; and the stretcher carrying Mr. Kurtz is then brought by the manager and his men to the steamer and put inside one of the cabins.
A Native Woman’s Extreme Devotion to Kurtz
Marlow now gets an opportunity personally to talk to Mr. Kurtz. On being told by Marlow who he is, Mr. Kurtz says that he is very glad to meet him. Evidently, somebody had been writing to Mr. Kurtz about Marlow. Just then Marlow sees a majestic-looking native woman appear on the river­bank. She is followed by a group of natives. The Russian explains to Marlow that this woman has a great hold upon Mr. Kurtz, and that she might even try to prevent Mr. Kurtz from going away from this place in the company of the white men. The woman at this time wears a tragic expression on her face. Marlow feels that she is experiencing an acute sorrow and pain because of the impending departure of Mr. Kurtz from this place. She would have liked to obstruct Mr. Kurtz’s departure but, feeling helpless in the matter, she goes away into the jungle from where she had come. The Russian says that, if this woman had actually stepped aboard the steamer, he would have shot her dead because the Russian does not want that Mr. Kurtz should continue to live here in his present state of illness. The Russian is very anxious that Mr. Kurtz should be taken away and sent to Europe for treatment. Besides, the Russian had, on one occasion, quarreled with this woman who had become excessively devoted to Mr. Kurtz and had been exercising full control over Mr. Kurtz’s household. It seems to Marlow that this woman had been working as Mr. Kurtz’s housekeeper and that she might even have become Mr. Kurtz’s mistress.
Kurtz’s Plans, Interrupted By. His Removal From This Region
Mr. Kurtz now asks the manager and the others to take all possible measures to save the ivory which he had collected, and which they must now carry with them. At the same time, Mr. Kurtz says that, by taking him away from this place, they would only be interrupting his “plans”. However, he also says that he would come back as soon as he recovers from his illness, and would then carry out the plans which are being interrupted. The manager privately tells Marlow that Mr. Kurtz’s condition is very bad, but that he (the manager) has done everything possible to help that man.
Kurtz’s Method Unsound According to the Manager
At the same time, the manager once again expresses his view that Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company of which he is an agent As a consequence of his removal from this place, this district would become closed to the white traders for some time, and the Company’s ivory trade would therefore suffer a loss. The manager further says that Mr. Kurtz’s method of doing things was “unsound”. Marlow does not agree with the manager’s view, but the manager insists that Mr. Kurtz’s method had really been “unsound”. Marlow, again disagreeing with the manager, says that Mr. Kurtz is a “very remarkable man.”
The Russian’s High Praise of Kurtz
The Russian feels so much admiration for Mr. Kurtz that he thinks Mr. Kurtz to be immortal. The Russian also expresses the opinion- that the manager and his white companions harbour an active ill-will towards Mr. Kurtz. The Russian now informs Marlow that the attack, which the natives had made upon Marlow’s steamer, had been instigated by Mr. Kurtz. The Russian explains that Mr. Kurtz had not, at that time, wanted to leave this region and had therefore ordered the natives to attack the steamer which was coming to take him away from this place. The Russian in this context says: “He (Mr. Kurtz) hated sometimes the idea of being taken away.” The Russian then also acquaints Marlow with one other aspect of Mr. Kurtz’s mind. The Russian says that Mr. Kurtz has an excellent talent for writing poetry and also for reciting it in an admirable manner. The Russian then says that Mr. Kurtz had enlarged his mind and that he would never, never meet such a man again. Thus the Russian is a confirmed worshipper of Mr. Kurtz.
Marlow’s Great Admiration and Esteem for Kurtz
By now, Marlow himself has become a great admirer of Mr. Kurtz. There is something about Mr. Kurtz which has cast a spell upon Marlow. Marlow is a very rational kind of man, and he has a very discriminating judgment; and yet he finds something irresistible about Mr. Kurtz. Of one great quality of Mr. Kurtz, he is, of course, fully aware; and that quality is eloquence. But eloquence alone cannot exercise such a fascination upon a rational man like Marlow. Mr. Kurtz’s eloquence had certainly played its part in subduing and taming the savages; but eloquence alone cannot explain the deep feelings of affection and friendship which Marlow has now developed towards Mr. Kurtz. Thus Mr. Kurtz has a certain mysterious aura around him; and Marlow falls a prey to it. The result is that, when Mr. Kurtz quietly slips away from his cabin on the steamer in order to rejoin the savages, Marlow makes a search for him in the jungle and is able to trace him. Mr. Kurtz at this time asks Marlow to go back to the steamer because otherwise the savages would attack him in order to prevent him from taking their leader away from them, but Marlow compels Mr. Kurtz to come back with him and, in fact, Marlow has to carry Mr. Kurtz on his shoulders to bring him back to the steamer because Mr. Kurtz is in no position to walk in his present feeble condition.
Kurtz’s Ready Response to the Call of the Wilderness
Marlow at this time explains the reason why, in his opinion, Mr. Kurtz had wanted to rejoin the savages and had slipped away from the cabin on the steamer. According to Marlow, the call of the wilderness had aroused Mr. Kurtz’s primitive instincts once again, and had reminded him of the gratification of his passions which he had been enjoying in the company of the savages. In other words, the sounds of the beating of the drums by the savages in the jungle had reached Mr. Kurtz’s ears, and had stirred and stimulated his primitive appetites and lusts which he had been feeding and satisfying during his stay among the savages. Thus, Mr. Kurtz had been leading a double life. He had been leading one life as the civilized white man who had come to this region for purposes of trade; and he had been leading a second life as a man whose primitive instincts had been aroused and had been receiving a full outlet. Living among the savages, he had been participating in the rites and ceremonies of the savages and had been gratifying his primitive passions and lusts. This civilized man had thus been leading a life of savagery and degradation, allowing full play to his animal instincts and appetites. A civilized man has to keep his animal instincts under control; but Mr. Kurtz, living among the savages, had been allowing his animal instincts complete freedom and obtaining the full satisfaction of those instincts. That is why Marlow refers to the “unspeakable rites” of the savages in which Mr. Kurtz had been participating. When Marlow brings Mr. Kurtz back to the cabin from the jungle into which he had gone in response to the sound of drums, Marlow expresses the view that Mr. Kurtz’s mind and intelligence were at this time perfectly clear and sane, but that it was Mr. Kurtz’s soul which had gone mad. The crowd of natives once again appears on the river-bank in a last-minute effort to prevent Mr. Kurtz from being taken away, and Marlow has this time again to use his previous trick of blowing the steamer’s whistle to drive away the crowd. The natives evidently become panicky when they hear the strange screeching sound of the steamer’s whistle.
“Mistah Kurtz––he dead”
Mr. Kurtz now lies ill in a cabin of the steamer of which Marlow is the skipper. Marlow often goes into the cabin to have a talk with the ailing man. Mr. Kurtz talks of various things, and Marlow once again feels greatly impressed by Mr. Kurtz’s eloquence. Indeed, Marlow here speaks again of Mr. Kurtz’s “inextinguishable gift of noble and lofty expression”. The subjects of Mr. Kurtz’s talk at this time are the girl whom he was to marry, the station at which he had been working as an agent of the Company, his past career, his future plans, and ivory. Sometimes Mr. Kurtz is so overpowered by his illness that his talk becomes childish and even stupid. One morning Mr. Kurtz gives Marlow a packet of papers and a photograph tied together with a shoe-string, and asks him to keep these articles in safe custody. Then Mr. Kurtz speaks of death, as if he had become aware that his end was approaching. Then one evening Marlow sees on Mr. Kurtz’s face an expression of mingled pride, power, terror, and despair. Thus many passions are at this time struggling with one another in Mr. Kurtz’s soul. Suddenly, Mr. Kurtz cries out twice: “The horror! The horror!” Marlow then leaves Mr. Kurtz, and goes into the mess-cabin where the manager and the other white men are taking their dinner. Marlow sits down, opposite the manager. A few minutes later, the manager’s boy-servant comes and says in a tone of contempt: “Mistah* Kurtz––he dead.” (The boy-servant’s words have become famous, like Mr. Kurtz’s dying words).
The Significance of Kurtz’s Dying Words : “The Horror”
Thus ends the remarkable career of Mr. Kurtz. Before dying, however, Mr. Kurtz had pronounced a judgment upon the adventures which his soul had gone through on this earth. The judgment was : “The horror.” In other words, there was something horrible about Mr. Kurtz’s dying vision of his earthly existence. While dying, Mr. Kurtz had realized that his life on the earth had been a horrible and horrifying affair. Evidently, while dying, Mr. Kurtz had become keenly aware of the evil which he had been committing during his stay among the savages, and of the diabolical deeds which he had been performing in association and in collaboration with the savages. While dying, Mr. Kurtz became painfully aware of the devilish deeds which he had been committing and the fiendish lusts which he had been gratifying in the company of the savages. Even the civilized aspect of his life in the Congo had not been of the kind to inspire any hope of salvation in the dying man because, as a civilized man, he had all the time felt obsessed by his passion for ivory and also by his passion for power. Thus there was hardly anything for Mr. Kurtz to be proud of in his whole life, except perhaps his love for his fiancee, a love which had not found fulfilment.
Kurtz’s Moral Victory While Dying
Marlow now expresses once again the view that Mr. Kurtz was a remarkable man, and that he had something solid to say before he died. What he had to say was; “The horror”. These words, says Marlow, had been an expression of some sort of belief. These words had candour, and they had conviction. These words were indicative of some truth which Mr. Kurtz had glimpsed while dying. Mr. Kurtz’s last words had, been an “affirmation,” and a “moral victory” over all his innumerable defeats in life and over all the abominable terrors which he had experienced and also over all his abominable satisfactions.
The Two Sides of Mr. Kurtz’s Personality
Thus there are two sides to Mr. Kurtz’s personality. There is the evil side which Mr. Kurtz himself recognizes when he utters the words: “The horror!” The evil certainly predominates in Mr. Kurtz whose stay in the Congo has not only further increased his passion for ivory and therefore his commercial greed, but also awakened his primitive instincts and brought them to the surface so that he becomes a complete slave to those instincts and begins to share the life of the savages. But there is a good side to his personality; and this good side is recognized by the Russian and then by Marlow. To the Russian, he seems to be an “immortal” who had profoundly influenced the Russian’s outlook upon life and who had enabled the Russian even to see into the essence of things. That good side is partly represented by Mr. Kurtz’s eloquence and his command of the language in which he speaks. That good side also finds an outlet in his last words which show his realization of the evil which had been raging within him and which had been controlling most of his actions. It is this good side which makes Marlow also an admirer of Mr. Kurtz. Finally, this good side of the man is seen in his fiancee’s continuing love for him and her continuing and deathless devotion to his memory.
A Symbolic Figure
Mr. Kurtz is undoubtedly the central figure in Heart of Darkness, and he is a symbolic figure too. He represents the western man’s greed and commercial mentality. He also represents the hypocrisy of the white man’s claims of civilizing the savages. These claims are only a camouflage for the white man’s commercial exploitation of the backward and ignorant peoples of the world. Mr. Kurtz also represents the western man’s love of power, and therefore his desire to subjugate and rule over the backward races of the world even at the sacrifice of the basic principles of ethics and morality. Finally, Mr. Kurtz symbolizes the power and force of the primitive instincts in a man. In an environment of savagery and brutality, even a civilized man, when cut off from civilized society, may lapse into primitivism. Mr. Kurtz, a highly civilized product of all Europe, becomes a demonic person, actively participating in all the rites of the savages, so that, even when he is being taken away by a group of white men from the Congo, he feels tempted to go back in response to the call of the wilderness.

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