In pursuit of fulfilling his dream of sailing along the river that un coils through Africa like a snake into the yet to be colonized heart of the continent, Marlow is introduced to the voice of Mr. Kurtz, a voice who’s influence over the land turns our narrators image of adventure into a nightmare. Marlow’s initial impressions of Mr. Kurtz are very good; they come from several high-ranking officials stationed along the way. As the journey toward the heart of Africa progresses Marlow begins to realize that Mr. Kurtz has left a lasting impression on many of the people acting under him. When confronted with the possibility of having lost his opportunity to speak with Mr. Kurtz, Marlow breaks down and realizes that a conversation with him is the substance of his persistent progress into the heart of the continent. Until Marlow realizes the truth behind the way Mr. Kurtz sees himself amongst humans in general, his impressions of the man are good, but after Marlow’s realization that in fact Mr. Kurtz has given into a world with no restraints he decides that Kurtz is in fact hollow at the core; however, Marlow still insists that Kurtz is remarkable.
Marlow’s first impression of Mr. Kurtz comes from the slickly dressed accountant at the first destination, the station “this scene of inhabited devastation” (243 Conrad). This man, an administrative force along the ivory trail introduces Marlow to Kurtz by remarking that he is “a first class agent” (246 Conrad). The man then proceeds to admit to Marlow that Kurtz is a “remarkable person…Sends in as much ivory as all the others put together…”(246 Conrad) This intrigues our protagonist, but fortunately for him the deterrents presented along his journey force him to keep his mind on the business of successfully overcoming all obstacles. Marlow never really gets a moment to think about what’s going on around him. Any reflections he does seem to make at this point of his trip are overshadowed by the ever-present sound of Kurtz. This drives Marlow forward in the direction of the dark depths of the thick African Jungle.
I felt how big, confoundedly big, was that thing that couldn’t talk, and perhaps was deaf as well. What was in there? I could see a little ivory coming out from there, and I had heard Mr. Kurtz was in there…He was just a word for me, I did not see the man in the name any more than you do…It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream” (Conrad 253).
As Marlow progresses up river he begins to encounter more of the incoherent chaos associated with the voice containing the tone of a mad man.
The notes laid down by the voice of Kurtz seem to leave lasting impressions on the minds of the enlisted, high and low ranking, officials of the company. What seems to resonate through the minds of these officials is a pride in the pursuit of success in achieving rank. They go about their existence trying to outsmart one another. Marlow realizes the emptiness of it all while over hearing the manager’s nephew discuss the stability of his status in the company with his uncle.
“Certainly, ‘grunted the other; ’get him hanged! Why not? Anything-anything can be done in this county. That’s what I say; nobody here, you understand, here, can endanger your position. And why? You stand the climate-you outlast them all. The danger is in Europe;”(257 Conrad).
The conversation brings Marlow to see light on the subject of the lack of restraint in achieving goals in Africa. Kurtz is also brought up in the conversation between the power hungry nephew and his uncle; the depiction of Kurtz by the two leaves Marlow debating what “that man” (257 Conrad) refereeing to Kurtz is up to.
It was a distinct glimpse: the dug-out four paddling savages, and the lone white man turning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on relief, on thoughts of home—perhaps; setting his face towards the depths of the wilderness, towards his empty and desolate station. (257 Conrad)
Kurtz seems to have created a hierarchy along the river, a dark shadow cast from the heart of the ivory trade, in the depths of the Jungle, shedding an inhuman nasty gloom over the poor souls trying to survive their journey to retrieve him.
Marlow is witness to all these obscurities along the river and through the crowdedness of anarchy and chaos he realizes that all he wants to do is speak to Kurtz.
I couldn’t have been more disgusted if I had traveled all this way for the sole purpose of talking with Mr. Kurtz. Talking with… I flung one shoe overboard, and became aware that was exactly what I been looking forward to- a talk with Kurtz.” (269 Conrad)
Even though by this point Marlow is aware that Kurtz has “ collected, bartered, swindled, or stolen more ivory than all the other agents together” (269 Conrad) our narrator is still obsessed with Kurtz’s being “a gifted creature” (269 Conrad). Kurtz’s gifts according to Marlow being with his ability to bewilder, illuminate using “the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the hear of the impenetrable darkness.” Marlow can see past the impurities left behind by Kurtz, he realizes that it wasn’t all good deeds that brought Kurtz to his position, but it was his “gift of expression” that set Kurtz apart. From there on in Marlow’s aspirations are focused on finding Kurtz for a simple chat and some reflection.
The purpose of Kurtz’s journey into the unmapped heart of Africa is to collect and to send back as much ivory as possible. Marlow gradually realizes the methods usually employed (by Europeans) become obsolete in a place so foreign. “Mr. Kurtz was a universal genius,’ but even a genius would find it easier to work with ‘adequate tools—intelligent men” (254 Conrad). Regression or the acceptance of any lag was obviously not an option in his travels; Kurtz avoided delay at all costs and continued the forward motion never losing his momentum. Marlow is used by Conrad to portray a reflection of Kurtz’s point of view through the eyes of a neutral narrator shadowing the aftermath of a lunatic’s unstoppable expedition toward satisfaction. Marlow experiences the momentum, the motion forward, an inertia carved into darkness by a member of the first class, an elite. The narrator is projected into the fire, so to speak, by a back draft of the consequences caused by Kurtz’s ability to remain proficient through a mode of breakdown. Marlow quickly realizes Kurtz’s advancements come at the high price of moral indignity.
There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment is blazed at, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’(272 Conrad).
Kurtz had gone mad getting things done out in dark depths of the hostile African jungle, all the ivory in the world wouldn’t bring him back, yet he was still viewed by his peers as on track by getting the job done and sending back mounds of ivory.
Throughout his voyage toward Kurtz’s whereabouts Marlow becomes awesomely aware of how corrupted Kurtz was forced to become to be so successful at achieving his task of sending home ivory tremendously efficiently. Only after listening to stories told by the Russian Marlow is convinced Kurtz has crossed a line.
He hated all this, and somehow he couldn’t get away. When I had a chance I begged him to try and leave while there was time; I offered to go back with him. And he would say yes, and then he would remain; go off on another ivory hunt; disappear for weeks; forget himself amongst these people—forget him-self—you know.’ ‘Why! He’s mad,’I said (277 Conrad)
Here Marlow becomes certain, after hearing what the Russian has to say, that Kurtz’s abilities have become beyond unorthodox and have fallen into a realm of complete evil. Mr. Kurtz in all of his insanity has gone on living like a God in the deepest darkest corner of the planet. Using his position among the aboriginals, Kurtz practices his domination over the tribes, raping the land like he had the right of a deity over it.
Mr. Kurtz’s was no idol of mine. He forgot I hadn’t heard any of these splendid monologues on, what was it? On love, justice, conduct of life—or what not. If it had come to crawling before Mr. Kurtz, he crawled as much as the veriest savage of them all. (279 Conrad)
Marlow knew in his human soul that the journey into the heart of darkness had destroyed the dignity that was once present in the honorable Mr. Kurtz, yet Marlow still believes the man is special.
The images Marlow is presented with in the his pursuit to hear the voice of the honorable and evil Mr. Kurtz do paint a picture of a nightmare, yet in the bowels of it all Marlow identifies Kurtz as remarkable. Because submerged within the cavity of evil Kurtz takes that one final step into the world of darkness by realizing his transgressions. Marlow reflects his view of the last moments of Kurtz’s existence.
‘The horror!’ He was a remarkable man. After all, this was the expression of some sort of belief; it had candor, it had conviction, it had a vibrating note of revolt in it’s whisper, it had the appalling face of a gimps of truth—the strange commingling of desire and hate. (289 Conrad)
Our narrator and storyteller bears witness to Kurtz’s realization of the reality of his supremacy and what it has done to him. Kurtz’s dies aware of his evil, he dies acknowledging his sins and seeing the flaws of his existence. Marlow’s purpose then after is to spread the good word, the truth. That an evil man, found in the depths of hell is still capable of affirming his acceptance of whom he was, and that what he did was wrong, and through it all Marlow maintains that Kurtz was an incredible human for attaining what he did at the end of the river that coils through the continent like a serpent.
Conrad, Joseph. “Heart Of Darkness. ”Understanding Fiction. Ed. Judith Roof
[Boston];Houghton Mifflin, 2005. 233-94. Print.