Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has long been the toast of English criticism since its publication in 1899. The novella’s dense allusions and controversial imagery sparked heated debates about the European colonization cause and Africa’s exploited description and past, with counter-readings and deferring opinions ranging from the meaning of “darkness” to the implications of the novella’s reach. The enigmatic and curious figure of Conrad himself solidified the literature’s status through his affinity with the narrator Marlowe, who critics previously pointed out as the author’s alter ego because of their parallel background and experiences; making this chronicle of his actual, raw African adventure a quest in itself for the true nature of humankind and oneself, and an establishing link to Marlowe and his journey beyond the constraints of its ‘fiction’ genre. However, little notice is given to understand Kurtz’s own journey, as the ivory trader to a ‘divine being’, much less to what caused it. The instant and intimate connection to Marlowe, who observed the events, rarely gave critics the chance to step in the shoes of the ones he observed – center to this is Kurtz. In this essay, I will argue that Kurtz’s journey, from rags to riches, deviates from the trope and achieved its intended destination: deification, which is the vision of utopia for an exceptional man hindered by poverty.
Before we delve into the matters however, a short summary of how Kurtz figures in the story is necessary. Heart of Darkness recounts the expedition of Charles Marlow into the depths of Africa as a captain of a river steamboat that transports and supply ivory for a trading company. In his engagement he learned of Mr. Kurtz, an agent remarkable in his ability to procure ivory more than any other combined. Despite many mishaps, and because of it, Marlow’s knowledge of Kurtz deepened: he was wise in his thoughts, brutal in his actions, a ‘god’ to the natives and a sick man in a makeshift stretcher. Because of this latter fact, he was to be retrieved for his health; contrary though, Kurtz suspects a greater motive behind his removal: he does not fear the wilderness much as he is not intimidated by the chains of command, and his having a strong influence within the Council in Europe. In spite of his attempts to resist, Marlow and his crew ventured off the Inner Station and out into the wilderness with the frail agent. Heading downstream to the sea, Kurtz did not survive. He passed unto Marlow his commissioned report for the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs (ISSSC) along with the portrait of his ‘Intended’ and his packet of personal letters to be given to her, all for safe-keeping. Returning to Europe, Marlow was still haunted by the enigma of Kurt and the ‘darkness’ attached to his vision.
Conrad’s literature has been analyzed for 117 years and little can be said more to offer a ‘fresh’ interpretation. But with the same curiosity that started notable critics like Hunt Hawkins, Peter Brooks, Albert Guerard, Chinua Achebe, Marianna Torgovnick, Jeremy Hawthorn, Ian Watt, Patrick Brantlinger Wilson Harris, Edward W. Said and J. Hiller Millis, this essay will examine the trigger of the thesis and how it frames the entirety of the narrative. Second, a brief look into the trope and how Kurtz differs from its usual protagonists. The third section will explore this difference and how it expanded within the chronicle to accomplish his ‘utopia’. Lastly, an assessment of his established ‘utopia’ and what ultimately became of it. Before I can begin in my own quest however, we must first distinguish Conrad’s view of his novella’s quest:
Heart of Darkness is “a wild story of a journalist who becomes manager of a station in the (African) interior and makes himself worshipped by a tribe of savages. Thus described, the subject seems comic, but it isn’t.” (Conrad qtd. In Karl & Davies 407).
PROLOGUE TO HIS JOURNEY
The cited quotation fuels this essay with confidence and vigor for Conrad himself emphasizes the centrality and importance of Kurtz. Orwell (1994) once wrote, in his ‘As I Please’ Tribune column, that “history is written by the winners” because those who control the present “controls the past as well as the future”. But this is not necessarily so because, despite Marlow’s ‘triumph’ of living to tell the tale, Kurtz controlled his being and haunted him throughout Europe as a ‘vision’; following him even to the end of the tale where Marlow frightenedly acknowledge its horrifying scale and victory: “It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul” (123).
But what created the paradox, the mystery, the man? Conrad’s eloquence of creating light in the midst of darkness greatly diverted us from questioning the ‘darkness’ itself, which was perhaps a manifestation too of Kurtz’s manipulation through Marlow – of his origin cast lightly at the end, almost like a footnote to a history a ‘deity’ wouldn’t divulge lest the fact humanizes and strips him of his ‘immortality’ in the eyes of those who hear his tale:
And the girl talked, easing her pain in the certitude of my sympathy; she talked as thirty men drink. I had heard that her engagement with Kurtz had been disapproved by her people. He wasn’t rich enough of something. And I don’t know whether he had not been a pauper all his life. He had given me some reason to infer that it was his impatience of comparative poverty that drove him out of there. (Conrad 126)
He was driven by ‘comparative poverty’ – a measure of poverty in comparison to another’s wealth, therefore, a measurement also of inequality – which perhaps “ultimately precipitated the amalgamation of enlightened elegance and unthinkable brutality that defines his existence up river” (Sayeau 120). His awareness (‘enlightenment’ of his cause) and, in hindsight, his utter negation of the lower stratum of society was borne out of his failed desire to be with the Intended. Conrad even highlighted this ‘enlightenment’ in his letter to William Blackwood (original publisher) on May 31, 1902:
I call your own kind self to witness […] the last pages of Heart of Darkness where the interview of the man and the girl locks in—as it were—the whole 30000 words of narrative description into one suggestive view of a whole phase of life and makes of that story something quite on another plane than an anecdote of a man who went mad in the Centre of Africa. (Conrad qtd. In Karl & Davies 417)
Can Heart of Darkness then be shaded, even slightly, under the label of a ‘love story’? The answer is definitely: NO. In lieu of the fact that the notion was dissolved to “little more than an afterthought” to favor the greater, darker themes of the novella. Conrad intentionally wrote it this way: “a mere shadow of love interest just in the last pages—but I hope it will have the effect I intend” (Conrad qtd. In Karl & Davies 145-6), thereby producing “a stunted, abortive romance [which] lies at the opening of Heart of Darkness’ true chronology” (Sayeau 183) – a fitting origin for such a convoluted man. Nevertheless, this matter propelled him towards the path of the ‘rags to riches’ archetype.
THE PARADIGM AND THE DEVIANT
Conrad began writing Heart of Darkness eight years after returning from Africa (Bloom 15), around 1890s. During this time, the ‘rags to riches’ concept was very prevalent within the American literature so far as having a formative effect during America’s Gilded Age. ‘The Gilded Age’ is a term coined by the author Mark Twain for his novel The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873) which satirize the masking of a nation’s serious social complications by framing the era in a thin gold gilding. The epoch was a time of extreme polarity: on one hand basking in the success of a rapid economic growth, and on the other, drowning in the hopeless poverty and inequality derived from the massive concentration of wealth in the other, higher pole (Stiglitz 2013). This period of history, late 19th century (from the 1870s to about 1990), also coincides (and in some way, parallel) with the middle portion of Britain’s Victorian era – a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain (Wolffe 1997), France’s Belle Époque (also known as La Belle Époque or “Beautiful Era”) – a period characterized by optimism, regional peace, economic prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovations (Wires 1997), Germany’s Wilhelmine Period – a period of ‘Wilhelmnism’ which relates to Wilhelm II, then reigning emperor, and his imperial ambitions of Germany’s establishment as a world power, and Russia’s ‘peaceful-bloody’ Tsars – the reign of Alexander III, “The Peacemaker” (Миротво́рец), devoid of any major wars, and the reign of Nicholas II, “Nicholas the Bloody”, which saw the economic and military collapse of the empire because of failed strategic warfare (Chisholm 1911).
Conrad, being “a creature of his time” (Said 426), was greatly influenced by his kinship to these states and empires: Russia – as a conqueror of the Kingdom of Poland (birthplace) and the cause of the Korzeniowski family’s exile, Germany – as part of the Central Powers (Austro-Hungarian and German Empires) which Conrad deemed as part of the key to Poland’s sovereignty (Nadjer 2007), France – as the starting point of his sailor career and French as a language that eased his mariner path through his fluency, Britain – as a state that granted him nationality (naturalization) with consecutive rights, and America – from where his fascination of the English language and the authors that used it, cultivated and influenced his writings and settings, particularly that of the south. Because of his association with these lands and the phenomenon that occurred within them during his writings, there was no question regarding his exploration of antinomies: wealth-poverty, prosperity-demise, optimism-negativity, power-destruction, and peacefulness-bloodiness. The magnetism and repulsion that characterized these themes and the boundaries of the era, developed into an antithesis manifested in Heart of Darkness: the rise (and fall) of human existence, the synchronicity of civility to primitivism and ultimately, the analogy of darkness (rags) and light (riches) — all of which Kurtz serves as the vital embodiment: through his character and journey, and through his fearless ascend from the depths of poverty to a ‘god’ acquiring a piece of his own heaven.
To discern his difference though from those who started in the same journey, Marlow’s checkup at the beginning perfectly frames it in Conrad’s words:
I thought him [the old doctor] a harmless fool. ‘I always ask leave, in the interests of science, to measure the crania of those going out there,’ he said. ‘And when they come back, too?’ I asked. ‘Oh, I never see them,’ he remarked; ‘and, moreover, the changes take place inside, you know.’ He smiled, as if at some quiet joke. (Conrad 16)
The symptoms of change always starts from the ‘inside’ of the mind. The manifestation seen in the physical appearance does not entirely confirm the depths of destruction in an individual and more likely, illustrates a different or confusing image of cognizance. To fully comprehend the influence of his initial poverty then, an analysis of what drove him out of it is essential: he was first and foremost, an imperialist. He shouldered the ‘white-man’s burden’, the justification of imperialism as a noble enterprise (Kipling 1899), in the wilderness of the Congo, and personified the Company’s raw ambitions and beliefs in every fiber in his being. His ‘altruism’ (driven by ‘enlightenment’) towards the natives juxtaposed with his (previous) status as a ‘lower’ individual in Europe suggests psychological projection: “thoughts, motivations, desires, and feelings that cannot be accepted as one’s own are dealt with by being placed in the outside world and attributed to someone else […] (it) does not take place arbitrarily, but rather seized on and exaggerated an element that already existed on a small scale in the other person” (Freud qtd. In Casement 177) — his poverty, projected then to the natives, can henceforth be ‘erased’ if the natives are ‘enlightened’ (a state he holds ideal for it is in keeping with his view of himself and the higher European collective): to save the ‘brutes’ then is to save himself.
He views himself, similar to how others perceive him, a “universal genius” (121). Which made his projection even more eager to attain its goal: to elevate his status. This eagerness to assert his intelligence in the midst of madness greatly perplexed and astounded Marlow who recognized him as a mad, intelligent soul:
Soul! If anybody ever struggled with a soul, I am the man. And I wasn’t arguing with a lunatic either. Believe me or not, his intelligence was perfectly clear—concentrated, it is true, upon himself with horrible intensity, yet clear; […] his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad. (Conrad 111)
And even more so, reflects the self-criticism that usually plagues those who are ‘aware’ of their existence and capabilities: “I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself” (Conrad 112). This struggle is the manifestation of his reasons in becoming a ‘god’. His quest was to fulfill his “gratified and monstrous passion” (110) set in his (undisclosed) “immense plans” (110) which he was nearing (or achieved) in completion: “I was on the threshold of great things” (Conrad 110). Marlow even succumbed to all of these — he was even forced to admit, and be intimidated even, of Kurtz’s determination in accomplishing all that he has set out to do and the gravity of all he has already achieved:
And, don’t you see, the terror of the position was […] that I had to deal with a being to whom I could not appeal in the name of anything high or low. I had, even like the niggers, to invoke him—himself—his own exalted and incredible degradation. There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. He had kicked himself loose of the earth. Confound the man! He had kicked the very earth to pieces. (Conrad 111)
But despite his passionate soldiering on as a tough patriarch of the Congo, his psychological decay permeates his demeanor more than what he wants to admit: “The wastes of his weary brain were haunted by shadowy images now—images of wealth and fame revolving obsequiously round his unextinguishable gift of noble and lofty expression” (114); nevertheless he was still in command of his ‘nature’ to the end, preserving it intact from the chaos, deeply confident in its existence: “But both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power” (Conrad 114).
The ‘efficiency’ of Kurtz both as an agent and a ruler is a direct result of his ideologies. Ideologies played a significant role within the narrative as it is the core of Kurtz’s devotion; from it he felt safety and relief, and from it he was able to justify his actions both as a conqueror and a colonist. Marlow expounded the appeal of the ideologies in carrying out ‘the conquest of the earth’ in expense of other’s fragility:
Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. […] for that [as a conqueror] you want only brute force— nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to. … (Conrad 8).
His devotion to such ideologies was expended within three (3) major avenues: that of the Company, that of the state, and that of himself. The Company and those under it, save for the Harlequin and Marlow himself, worshipped ivory: “The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life!” (Conrad 35). While the state, depicted through Kurtz’s letter to the ISSSC, upholds the ‘enlightenment’ of the natives as ideology to purge the ‘darkness’, central in executing this are the ivory stations itself: “Each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing” (Conrad 53). But because of Kurtz’s corruption, his ideology then ventured on a different path – that of rejecting the very civilization that produced him, and unloading the ‘white man’s burden’ from his shoulders: “Exterminate all the brutes!” (Conrad 83). These ideologies then, manifested and implemented within different aspects of Kurtz history and existence, made his journey inevitable and one that deviates from the dictates of the archetype.
JOURNEY: HIS MEANS TO AN INTENDED END
“What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! … The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths, the germs of empires,” (Conrad 5) remarked the narrator, alluding to the vast Congo river “resembling an immense snake uncoiled” (10) that fascinated Marlow like “a silly little bird” (Conrad 10). Traversing the path of this river brought him to Kurtz (and the bird to the snake’s head) who presented in this wilderness the ‘dreams of men’ (civilization) and through his control of the Inner Station planted the ‘seed of commonwealths’ (hegemonic rule) but in his demise, exhibited the ‘germs of empires’ (fragility of power). He was able to command such greatness through his multidimensional characteristics which are framed within a white face that “[revolves] obsequiously round his unextinguishable gift of noble and lofty expression” (114) and communicated through a voice that “rang deep to the very last. It survived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of his heart” (Conrad 114). More than these notable assets though, his prominence emanates from more dominant and brutal qualities: his greed, his power, and his fame – the trifecta he was able to master and manipulate to establish his ‘utopia’.
Kurtz’s ‘altruism’ is limited. More than the light, he cultivated darkness through his greed. He worshipped ivory even more that The Company by his outward usage of ‘unsound methods’; those he deemed in the way of his satisfaction, those threatening his cause and those that does not further it suffers a fate as grim as the shrunken heads set morbidly with a smile that resembled Kurtz’s own contentment and faith of his actions: “there it was, black, dried, sunken, with closed eyelids—a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber” (Conrad 96). He established his domain by surrounding himself with natives that would murder for their ‘god’, and barricaded his fort with spikes of ‘dried heads’ to ward off those who wants to stake claim of his ivory lot which he prioritize more than anything in his own world, more even so than his own esteemed self:
At this moment I heard Kurtz’s deep voice behind the curtain: ‘Save me!—save the ivory, you mean. Don’t tell me. Save ME! Why, I’ve had to save you. You are interrupting my plans now. Sick! Sick! Not so sick as you would like to believe. Never mind. I’ll carry my ideas out yet—I will return. I’ll show you what can be done. You with your little peddling notions—you are interfering with me. I will return. I…. (Conrad 103)
His bravery in pursuing the insatiable thirst of his greediness stems from his perceived ownership of the land. He vehemently claimed the ivory and renounced the Company in establishing his power: “This lot of ivory now is really mine. The Company did not pay for it. I collected it myself at a very great personal risk. I am afraid they will try to claim it as theirs though” (Conrad 124). Narrating over and over again his proprietorship: “‘my ivory, […] My Intended, my ivory, my station, my river, my—’ everything belonged to him” (Conrad 80); which became a mantra that followed him to his death bed and demise: “My Intended, my station, my career, my ideas— these were the subjects for the occasional utterances of elevated sentiments” (Conrad 114). This was furthered by the fact that he was able to control the natives: that “they would not stir till Mr. Kurtz gave the word” (97), that they protected him by setting the tribal camps in a manner that surrounds his station which is subsequently perceived as his altar to which they are of eternal servitude, and that the “the chiefs [would come] every day to see him… [and to get his favor] they would crawl…” (Conrad 97).
He was able to replicate an empire in “the farthest point of navigation and the culminating point of […] experiences” (Conrad 9). Through his brutality and unrelenting viciousness, he mythicized himself in this “lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that had a right to exist— obviously—in the sunshine” (Conrad 97), where his fame – of being a remarkable agent, a brutal conqueror, a successful ruler, and a bearer of ‘light’ against savagery – precedes him before anything else; his image can get the job done without even a glimpse of his actual presence.
The fulfillment of the trifecta transformed Kurtz into an ‘idea’ — an ‘ideology’ that is whispered, worshipped and revered within the depths of Africa, in the inner ‘heart of darkness’: “[His] ivory face [alone, held] the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair” (166). Marlowe was even intrigued of Kurtz in his entirety, wondering as he tried to grasp the ‘idea’ that is Kurtz: “Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge?” (Conrad 165) And he bought this ‘idea’, despite the actual feeble creature he was veritably acquainted to; he still subscribed to the strength of the conqueror that defies his present form, he turned to him in respite and acknowledge his remarkability: “I turned mentally to Kurtz for relief—positively for relief. ‘Nevertheless I think Mr. Kurtz is a remarkable man,’ I said with emphasis” (Conrad 104). In his death, Marlow did not have a lasting regard to that of the human vessel, that which was buried to the ground, for Kurtz was an ‘idea’ already which could only live on through the loyalty of belief, of his transcendence beyond death itself – to which Marlow dedicated his cause: ‘I went no more near the remarkable man who had pronounced a judgment upon the adventures of his soul on this earth. The voice was gone. What else had been there? […] However, as you see, I did not go to join Kurtz there and then. I did not. I remained to dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyalty to Kurtz once more” (Conrad 117). However, this divine feat is just but the tip of a colossal, ginormous iceberg.
“The best way I can explain it to you is by saying that, for a second or two, I felt as though, instead of going to the center of a continent, I were about to set off for the center of the earth,” (Conrad 18) — a premonition felt by the narrator at the beginning of his journey was soon realized when he met “the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire” (Conrad 24) occupying the same body who later discarded this for a greater form — that of a demon more powerful and capable than Satan. By making himself an ‘ideology’, he “appeared to them [the characters and readers alike] in the nature of supernatural beings – […] with the might of a deity” (Conrad 82), as Satan is in Inferno: the humongous, beastly and abominable “Emperor of the kingdom dolorous” (Alighieri 28). But while the fallen Angel of Light is infinitely trapped in an icy hell of his own doing (for trying to escape by flying he freezes Cocytus itself) that he himself does not realize (for he was stripped of his intellect due to the blasphemous splendor of his ambitions), Kurtz (with his strong, intact ‘nature’) cunningly seized his contrapasso (poetic justice): he conquered, ruled and defined his Hell by transforming it into his own Heaven.
He reigned as the grand, supreme emperor of “the very bottom of there” (Conrad 28) and took the “high seat among the devils of the land” (Conrad 80) with greed, power and fame producing coals for his eternal flame. And while Marlow (travelling downstream) parallel Dante and Virgil’s descend downwards Satan’s ragged fur in acknowledgement that “there is no way to rise above such evil” (Alighieri 84), Kurt ascended upriver to established his throne in the Inner Station deeply isolated in the wilderness. In reflection, since Judecca “conveys at its sharpest the ultimate and universal pain of Hell; isolation” (143) which Kurtz actively sought for, he was able to embrace his imprisonment more than Satan can. In actuality, while “the deepest isolation is to suffer separation from the source of all light and life and warmth” (Jacoff 143), Kurtz who was “a prodigy […], an emissary of pity and science and progress, and devil knows what else” (39) did not ‘suffer’ in the dark but chose to kill the “lighted torch” (Conrad 39) that he bears.
THE RUINS OF THE UTOPIA
The Heart of Darkness narrates what became of this utopia. Kurtz was at the height of his ‘success’ long before Marlow arrived, and his fall from grace was what Marlow came to bear witness. “But come to an end it would, if only because – like all human effort, like speech itself – it would have its moment, then it would have to pass,” Said (1994) said of imperialism, and like the evil from whence it was borne, it also died because of its faulty ideas and corrupted values. However, it immortalized Kurtz in the way that others who came from ‘rags’, without ambitions beyond that of a cushioned seating and a decent funeral, cannot replicate: Kurtz was still a ‘god’ until the very end.
Kurtz “could get himself to believe anything—anything” (122) and he transmitted this by dominating the memory of those who were acquainted with his human form, regardless of the sense – be it through tale, actual observation, smell of decay in his land, or feeling the “atmosphere of the overheated catacomb” (21). The natives who revered him and shouted in “roaring chorus of articulated, rapid, breathless utterance” (113) as a protest or a prayer for the departing god manifested the complexity and extent of his myth which even Marlow sought to comprehend:
‘Do you understand this?’ I asked. He kept on looking out past me with fiery, longing eyes, with a mingled expression of wistfulness and hate. He made no answer, but I saw a smile, a smile of indefinable meaning, appear on his colourless lips that a moment after twitched convulsively. ‘Do I not?’ he said slowly… (Conrad 113)
As Marlow narrates the fall of this ‘deity’, he invokes and provokes the “shade of the original Kurtz” to appear and once again, take charge of his story. This “grimy fragment of another world, the forerunner of change, of conquest, of trade, of massacres, of blessings” – everything is brought to life again and again through the pages of his narration, rebuilding from these ruins the great Inner Station that acquired more ivory than any other combined; invoking from the dark mists of the night the master of the land who knowns no bound. His death then, and that of imperialism, may actually just be a figment of the reader’s imagination.
But darkness was here yesterday…Imagine him here—the very end of the world, a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of smoke…lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay—cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death—death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. Oh, yes—he did it. Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either, except afterwards to brag of what he had gone through in his time, perhaps. They were men enough to face the darkness…Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him—all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There’s no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination—you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate. (Conrad 6)
In the beginning of the story, Kurtz was glorified amidst his ‘darkness’. He was very much present as his humanity is absent, and he was much of the jungle as he was the wilderness at the center of the human heart. From his humble beginnings we see the rise of an ominous phoenix defying the path of his origin to fly and establish himself at the height of supremacy. The utopia he created, which the novella analyzed and exploited, narrates of his struggle for an innate cause that is neither good nor entirely condemnable: his was the success of a man who saved himself from drowning in poverty. However, in saving himself he forgot his mind which consequently drowned in ‘impenetrable darkness’; sinking so low as when you look at him you see his sanity’s descend: “I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines” (Conrad 116). And like Marlow, we must heed of the dangers of looking into someone that parallels our own flawed humanity, lest we are drowned too of its darkness; in this, we must remember the old doctor’s warning: “In the tropics one must, before everything, keep calm. […] ‘DU CALME, DU CALME. ADIEU.’”
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