Heart of Darkness By Joseph Conrad Summary and Analysis Part 3

Marlow thought it necessary to visit Kurtz's Intended — his fiancée, whose photograph Kurtz had given Marlow on the voyage home. Marlow waited for her in her drawing room until she entered, dressed in mourning. She immediately struck Marlow as trustworthy, sincere, and innocent. As she told Marlow that no one knew Kurtz as well as she, he struggled to maintain his composure, because he did not want to reveal to her what Kurtz actually became during his time in the jungle. When she asked Marlow to tell her Kurtz's last words, Marlow hesitated — and then lied, saying, "The last word he pronounced was — your name." The Intended sighed and wept. Marlow's tale is over. On board the Nellie, the anonymous narrator and the other men sit motionless. The narrator looks at the dark clouds, the overcast sky, and the Thames — which he now sees as flowing "into the heart of an immense darkness."

Analysis

Throughout Parts 1 and 2 of Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is a shadowy figure whose name is dropped at different times and whose personality and importance eludes both Marlow and the reader. Only after reading Part 3, however, does Kurtz's overall importance become clear and Conrad's design show itself; the novel is about the meeting of two men (Marlow and Kurtz) whose existences mirror each other. Ultimately, Conrad suggests that Kurtz is who Marlow may become if he abandons all restraint while working in the jungle. Part 3 emphasizes Kurtz's godlike stature to show why Kurtz became what he did and how Marlow retreats from this fate.

Throughout Part 3, Conrad stresses the absolute devotion that Kurtz inspires in his followers. The Harlequin, for example, speaks with enthusiasm when speaking of Kurtz: "He made me see things — things," he tells Marlow, and adds, "You can't judge Kurtz as you would an ordinary man." This is an important statement, because it reflects the idea that Kurtz feels he has moved beyond the judgement of his fellow man. By abandoning himself to his innermost desires and lusts, Kurtz has achieved a god-like status. Note that this god-like status is not simply an illusion in Kurtz's mind, for the heads of neighboring tribes fall prostrate before Kurtz and, more surprisingly, the very natives being forced into slavery by the Company attack Marlow's steamboat because they do not want Kurtz to leave. The sight later on of the three natives covered in earth and the "wild woman" reinforce Kurtz's godlike stature. "He came to them with thunder and lightning," the Harlequin explains, "and they had never seen anything like it." Fulfilling what Conrad saw as the wish of many Europeans, Kurtz has established himself as a violent force, ready to extract vengeance on anyone who disobeys his commands.

Ironically, however, Kurtz does not appear to fit this description physically. Pale, emaciated, and weak, he is often referred to by Marlow as a shadow of a man, a man who is "hollow at the core" and who actually longs for his own destruction. In essence, succumbing to what Marlow calls the "various lusts" that can possess any man has taken its toll on Kurtz's soul — a toll that is reflected in Kurtz's withered frame. Once a formidable tyrant, Kurtz is now "an animated image of death carved out of old ivory." As Kurtz's "wild woman" is a personification of the jungle Kurtz himself is the embodiment of the Company: a force that revels in its own power for power's sake. (Recall how Kurtz turned his canoe around after coming two hundred miles down the river; after tasting the power that his position afforded him, Kurtz could not return to the confining "civilization" of Europe.)

Besides implying the idea that Kurtz embodies the Company, the passage is important because it suggests that even men with "great plans" such as Kurtz (recall his painting and ideas about how each station should be a "beacon on the road to better things") can discover they are, in fact, exactly like the "savages" they are purporting to "save." Underneath the sheen of "civilization," there exists, in every man, a core of brutality. Many people manage to suppress this part of themselves, but Kurtz chose to court it instead. His previous beliefs and "plans" really meant nothing — there was no substance to them, which is why Marlow calls Kurtz "hollow at the core." Kurtz's report on "Savage Customs" reflects this duality — its opening pages are filled with grandiose plans for reform, but its author's true feelings are revealed in his postscript, "Exterminate all the brutes!"

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