.. ents. This same idea of distorting a person’s character by changing his name is displayed elsewhere. The Europeans apply the words enemy and criminal to the natives. However, they are no threat.
The natives are confused and helpless victims being exploited by ignorant and greedy invaders. The injustice done by misrepresenting someone is catastrophic. After observing these names which bare no true meaning, as well as degrade a person’s character, Marlow understands that he can not continue in his former ways of mindlessly giving random names to things for fear of diminishing the essence of the subject. Therefore, Marlow finds himself unable to label something for what it is. For example, while under attack, Marlow refers to arrows being shot in his direction as sticks, little sticks, and a spear protruding from a man as a long cane (45,47). When Marlow arrives at the inner station, he sees slim posts [.
. .] in a row with their ends ornamented with round carved balls (52). In truth, these are poles with skulls on top of them. Marlow can not comprehend the reality of these things. Looking back on his voyage, Marlow realizes how mindless and meaningless the labels the Europeans use to identify things are.
He wants to be able to identify properly everything he encountered on his voyage. Kurtz is the chief of the Inner Station. He is a universal genius, a prodigy, an emissary of pity science and progress (28). Kurtz teaches Marlow how significant labels are: The man presented himself as a voice[. . .] of all his gifts, the one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words—the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating [.
. .]. (48) Kurtz was [. . .] little more than a voice (48), but there was no one with a voice like his. He could speak with remarkable eloquence, he could write with such precision, and he could name with true meaning.
You don’t talk with that man [Kurtz]— you listen to him (53). Marlow has heard enough about Kurtz to know that he can give Marlow insight into the nature of the world. Indeed, Kurtz gives Marlow everything he is looking for, but in an unexpected way. Kurtz teaches Marlow the lesson with his last words: The horror! The horror! (68). These words are Kurtz’s judgment on his own life. He is barbarous, unscrupulous, and possibly even evil.
However, he has evaluated his life and pronounced judgment. Marlow sees Kurtz open his mouth wide—it gave him a weirdly voracious aspect, as though he wanted to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men before him.. (59). Kurtz takes everything he has done in his life into himself and pronounces a judgement upon it. He had summed up— he had judged [. .
.] the horror! (68). Kurtz’s last words are his way of teaching Marlow the essence of a name. A name is not merely a label. It is one man’s own judgment of an isolated event. However, unlike the Europeans who judge based on principles they acquired through social conditioning, Kurtz teaches Marlow to look inside himself and judge based on his own subjective creeds. While Marlow is recounting the story, he says to his comrades: He must meet that truth with his own true stuff—with his own inborn strength. Principles? Principles won’t do.
Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags—rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No. You want a deliberate belief. An appeal to me in this fiendish row—is there? Very well. I hear, I admit, but I have a voice too, and for good or evil mine is the speech that cannot be silenced.
(38) Marlow has learned that objective standards alone will not lead him to recognize the reality of life. One can not depend on another’s principles to find reality because they have not had to bear the pain and responsibility of creating it. Principles are acquisitions, which, like other things we acquire rather than generate, are easily shaken off. A judgment must be made from one’s own internal strengths. That is why Marlow says, for good or evil, mine is the speech that cannot be silenced (38).
As Kurtz taught him with his own judgment, a judgment of truth overpowers morality. To find ones own reality one must not rely solely on other people’s morality or principles; one must assess his own life. Kurtz shows Marlow that regardless of whether the truth is good or bad, one must face his reality. He must face his own actions even when the conclusion is the horror. By doing so, he will find his true reality.
Marlow understands that being true to you is not following another’s moral code, but being able to judge one’s self honestly to discover a true reality. Because of his newfound understanding, Marlow claims that Kurtz’s last words serve as [. . .] a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats.. (70). Despite Kurtz’s immoral ways, he is victorious. Because he did not run away from the truth, he won a moral victory (McLauchlan 382).
Marlow learns the essence of naming and understands what it means to search for the truth within himself. Marlow encounters two extremes while on his search: the European mentality, which he finds completely oblivious to reality; and Kurtz, a man who has found his horrible and unrestrained reality. With this extraordinary knowledge of the two extremes of mankind, he returns to England. Because of his knowledge, he has a new understanding. He knows it is impossible to revert to his former mentality because he has been enlightened and, thus, lost his naivete. Perhaps he could adopt Kurtz ways and live in the other extreme. At one point, Marlow had peered over the edge (68).
Why did he not jump? Marlow is repelled from joining Kurtz for several reasons. First, Kurtz had kicked himself loose of the earth..he had kicked the very earth to pieces. He was alone — and I [Marlow] before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air (65). Kurtz had denied any sort of moral convictions in order to be worshipped as a god. Because of this unmonitored power, Kurtz lost all sense of restraint and became the savage that he was. Marlow, however, has not lost his sense of morality and, thus, has not become a savage free of societal hindrance. It is because of Marlow’s rejection of both the Europeans, who he claims are full of stupid importance (70), and Kurtz’ inability to establish his own moral code, that Marlow chooses another avenue.
The first time the reader witnesses Marlow’s choice to find a middle ground is when he first gets back to Europe. Marlow finds himself resenting the way the Europeans go about their lives, hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other [. . .] (70). Not only did he find their lives meaningless, but he also silently mocked them. I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty restraining myself from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance.
I tottered about the streets [. . .] grinning bitterly at perfectly respectable persons. I admit my behaviour was inexcusable [. . .] (70).
Although Marlow looked down on the Europeans, he judged his own actions and found them inexcusable. This is evidence of Marlow rejecting Kurtz’ extreme. Unlike Kurtz who could not fault others because he lacked any restraint, Marlow realizes that he can not fault them because they do not know the truth he knows. He seems to be searching for a middle ground between Kurtz enlightened madness and the Europeans egocentric stupidity, but the reader does not know exactly what Marlow feels. By looking back to Marlows voyage, the reader can see an act of affirmation for the middle of the two extremes.
While aboard the Nellie, Marlow says, I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie [. . .] simply because it appalls [sic] me. There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies.. (29).
However, near the end of the novel, he acts in away that is diametrically opposite of his assertion. Marlow visits Kurtz’ intended to speak of her beloved fianc. She desperately wants to know what his last words were. Marlow says, The last word he pronounced was—your name (75). He lies to her. He does something he previously claimed to detest. Marlows lie to the intended is an indication that he has found a middle ground between the two extremes of human nature (Stewart 369).
Her question forced Marlow to look inside himself for the truth of his reality. He found an instance where a lie was better than the truth. Like Kurtz, Marlow judged the situation independently, but unlike Kurtz, he used reason and reality. He rejected Kurtz values, which were based on whims and void of any objective principles. Marlow successfully used both personal creeds and objective principles to decide what answer to give the desperate intended.
Marlow found a middle ground and discovered his own truth. Marlow saw the suffering imposed by the imperialistic environment on the Congo and its natives and it had a tremendous effect on him. He underwent a drastic change in response to the hostile environment that was so different from his homeland. Kurtz showed him the flaws of European imperialistic ideals. Marlow came to understand European principles of his time and it changed his entire perception and behavior.
Bibliography Bibliography Primary Kimbrough, Robert, ed. Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. By Joseph Conrad. 3rd ed. Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton, 1988. Secondary Johnson, Bruce.
Conrads Impressionism and Watts Delayed Decoding. Conrad Revisited: Essays for the Eighties: 51-70. By Ross C Murfin. University: The Univ. of Alabama, 1985. Rpt.
in Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. Ed. Kimbrough, Robert. 3rd ed. Norton Critical Edition, New York: Norton, 1988.
McLauchlan, Juliet. The Value and Significance of Heart of Darkness. Conradia 15 (1983): 3-21. Rpt. in Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism.
Ed. Kimbrough, Robert. 3rd ed. Norton Critical Edition, New York: Norton, 1988. Stewart, Garrett.
Lying as Dying in Heart of Darkness. PMLA 95 (1980): 319-31. Rpt. in Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. Ed.
Kimbrough, Robert. 3rd ed. Norton Critical Edition, New York: Norton, 1988.