Heart of Darkness


Heart of Darkness In the classic novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad takes us on a journey into the soul of man. When the character of Marlow travels into the jungle of Africa to find Kurtz, he realizes that he is in a place where the rules of society no longer constrain human nature, and the frightening truths about human beings can be observed first hand. Marlow finds that human nature is something terrible and unlimited by observing the effects of such freedom on Kurtz. He also discovers that human nature is able to be altered (subject to the constraints placed on it by the environment), and that it is able to be either good or evil. The temptation of evil, existing the most in an environment lacking any rules, creates a turmoil in the human soul, as it struggles between its conscience and its tendencies towards evil. Kurtz confides in Marlow near the end of the book, and from him Marlow learns about human nature as he examines Kurtz's destroyed soul. Marlow says, "By being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and....it had gone mad" (p.150). Marlow observes how Kurtz struggles with himself, and the horrors of the wilderness that he had given in to. When Marlow arrives at Kurtz's station, he finds that Kurtz participates in horrible ceremonies, like one in which he beheaded natives and placed their heads on fence posts as symbols. Marlow believes that the wilderness "whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude -- and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating" (p.138). Without the constraints of society, Kurtz is able to fulfill his inner desires and go beyond any restraints that he may have had before. In Kurtz, Marlow sees "the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself" (p.150). As Kurtz approaches death, he struggles desperately with himself and the evil that he had resigned his soul too. "..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"(p.152). The conflict between good and evil is raging in Kurtz's soul at this time, as he struggles between the greatness that he had possessed, and the emptiness of a soul tempted by evil. When first talking to Marlow, Kurtz tells him that he was "on the threshold of great things" (p.148). As they travel through the wilderness to leave the station that destroyed Kurtz, Marlow comments, "Oh he struggled! he struggled! The wastes of his weary brain were haunted by shadowy images now -- images of wealth and fame revolving obsequiously round his inextinguishable gift of noble and lofty expression" (p. 152). Even as he waits to die, Kurtz's greatness refused to completely submit as it fights the powerful force of evil that has consumed his soul. Before he dies, Marlow observes on Kurtz's face "the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror"(p.153). All of human nature, evoked from the lack of constraints he found in the wilderness, fought within him until the end - when he sums up his struggles and observations of human nature with one phrase: "The horror! The horror!" Marlow admires Kurtz for these words, because Kurtz had learned and reached a conclusion on human nature in his last moment of life, and, as Marlow says, "the most you can learn from [life] is some knowledge of yourself...." (p. 154). Marlow also calls these words "a moral victory" because they show that he had struggled to the end -- that Kurtz had not simply resigned to some state between good and evil, but he had been able to judge everything that he had experienced, throwing out one phrase at the end of his struggle that summed up human nature. This ability was Kurtz's greatness. His last words had "the appalling face of a glimpsed truth -- the strange commingling of desire and hate" (p.155). "The horror" that Kurtz labels is the struggle between good and evil that a great man experienced when faced with human nature in its purest form, without society?s constraints. After