AD's English Literature : Kurtz's Isolation, Exile and Loneliness Prompts his Decline: Truth about Kurtz's Final words

Kurtz's Isolation, Exile and Loneliness Prompts his Decline: Truth about Kurtz's Final words

Conrad’s first novels, Almayer's Folly (1895) and An Outcast of the Islands (1896), established Conrad as an observer of persons under stress, self-destructive aliens in a luxurious but decaying environment. The Nigger of the Narcissus, the first of Conrad's novels of shipboard life, depicts a crew facing moral problems of conduct and struggling to survive during a storm at sea. Lord Jim, the foremost artistic work of his early phase, introduced Marlow, Conrad's famous narrator and alter-ego, and also introduced the author's experimentation with chronology, narrative, and symmetrical plotting.

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is the study of the same and lots of criticisms have been written about the possible implications of Kurtz’s agonized cry ‘the horror!The horror!’ which imply the such 'decaying environment'. Many critics think that it is Kurtz’s instantaneous reaction to his realization of truth which is hidden ‘luckily’ for most of us. It is a succinct summing up his degeneration and the dark forces that led to the degeneration. Everybody is not able to confront his real self ; everybody is not able to confront reality Kurtz, according to Marlow did confront reality and, therefore, he is ‘a remarkable man’ that way the phrase can be taken as Kurtz’s judgment on his own misdeeds. Marlow asserts, in fact, later, that ‘Kurz had summed up –he had judged’, and that his final cry was ‘an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfaction’. But many critics question how Marlow, or the reader for that matter can, know what Kurtz means by his final cry? The moral reading of Kurtz’s words is conditioned by Marlow’s sensibility, and throughout the narrative Marlow presets himself as the only truthful man in midst of a host of civilized hypocrites. The meaning of the phrase should remain, like Marlow’s tale ‘inconclusive’.

In fact, Heart of Darkness is a tale of many voyages. Charlie Marlow's voyage into the depths of the 'Dark Continent' parallels his voyage into the heart of an immense darkness, into the collective unconsciousness of the human race. At the end of his quest Marlow hopes to find Mr. Kurtz and through him learn the meaning of intelligent life in an alien and brutal universe; instead the voyage becomes a descent into an underworld in which Kurtz is both captive and creator, and from which Marlow barely escapes. 

The reporting by the captain’s boy Mistah Kurtz –he head’ is short and laconic, and in its structure, is in keeping with the cultural level of the reporter. But the words assume tremendous significance when we look at them more closely. It is not for nothing that Eliot used the words as epigraph to his famous poem “The Hollow men”.

Kurtz's capitalist mercantile ventures, the handmaidens of imperialism, draw Marlow into the vast heart of a continent and into an actual and a symbolic heart of darkness. These ventures are intended to enhance European wealth and power, but their byproducts are the exploitation of the native population and the moral deterioration of the traders. From Marlow's first visit to what he calls 'a dead house in a sepulchral city' to his encounters with the lost souls at the outposts of progress and his meeting with the insane Kurtz, his experience is expressed in terms of death, decay, and the dehumanizing power of capitalism at its worst.

Kurtz is buried and Marlow’s next words are that are that the crew nearly buried him. Possibly after the death of Kurtz Marlow fell deadly ill on account of some jungle fever and his next memories are of being back to the ‘sepulchral city’.

Marlow’s last act is to perform the job he was entrusted with by Kurtz. It is to meet Kurtz’s and handover to her ‘a slim packet of letters and the girl’s portrait’. Marlow’s meeting with Kurtz’s ‘intended’ is a very significant episode in the novel. The girl is presented in an impressionistic style. When Marlow meets the girl it is evening time and darkness is gathering around. Again, the girl darkness is as literal or physical as it is metaphorical. When the girl comes Marlow finds her dressed in black that is she is in mourning. She questions Marlow about Kurtz’s last words, because, it transpires during the meeting, she was sure that it was her name. She is a victim of illusion. She says about Kurtz; “I knew him best”. But we know that her knowledge of Kurtz is faulty, myopic and illusory. She blissfully is ignorant of the depravities of Kurtz. Marlow knows that Kurtz’s last words were not names but ‘the horror! The horror!’ and we also know that Marlow detests lies. So, it is only natural that Marlow will come out with truth. But Marlow hesitates. He feels tense. He is viably perplexed. Marlow feels disturbed, because he can clearly see how strongly she trusts Kurtz. Her fidelity is unswerving. She is ‘one of those creatures that are not the playthings of time’. He also sees that it is her illusion about Kurtz that sustains her and gives her strength to live. She constitutes, in a sense a living reproof of every kind of cynical evasiveness. Her trustfulness demands that she must be told the truth. Yet the only truth that can be told would destroy the very basis of that trust. So, Marlow is in a dilemma. After an intense struggle with himself Marlow at last tells. A lie and says that the last words of Kurtz were her name. Why dose Marlow feel the lie? That is an enigma, and points to the inconclusive narrative. But one possible reason is that Marlow presents his lie as guarantor of truth. In other words, it is only this lie that can preserve the innocence of the girl and give her the protection of saving illusion. In terms of the thematic of the novel, Marlow possibly accepts the shadow as an inescapable accomplishment of life. Man lives in illusion. The paradox of the loss, for Marlow, is a finding. The girl’s illusion keeps alive, in the suffocating darkness of Marlow’s experience of reality, the light of innocence and integrity.

Marlow’s journey ends with the knowledge of a positive illusion that allows him to survive tragic knowledge without incurring self deception. Awareness of the darkness is no small enlighten. In the end of Marlow’s tale we find him, in the words of the nameless narrator, ‘indistinct and lisent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha’. In the beginning of the tale also ‘Marlow sat cross legged’ and ‘he had the pose of a Buddha’. The Buddha image at the end of the novel is linked up with the Buddha image in the beginning, and it adds one more dimension to the journey. It is a journey within, a journey, like Buddha’s, for enlightenment. Marlow approximates Buddha, the enlightened one.

 Ardhendu De

  • Klein, Herbert G. "Charting the Unknown: Conrad, Marlow, and the World of Women."
  • Lynn, David H. " Heart of Darkness : Marlow's Heroic Cry." The Hero's Tale. Narrators in the Early Modern Novel .
  • IGNOU Study Guide MA English

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