’s And His Intended Damned? Essay, Research Paper
It is interesting to note that the female characters in Heart of Darkness seem to stand in a category of their own. It is queer how out of touch with women are. They live in a world of their own says Marlow about his aunt. Considering Heart of Darkness as a journey of self-discovery, Marlow s assertion seems to deny women the right or the need for the quest for truth. Conrad has suggested an ironic ambiguity, a confusion of light and dark about their nature, although the women themselves are not aware of it. Marlow is only half conscious of this duality as his first reference to the Intended implies: Oh she is out of it completely. They the women I mean are out of it-should being out of it. We musthelp them to stay in that beautiful world of their own,lest ours gets worse. Thus, Marlow tells a lie to keep the Intended in the dark by preserving her light: I could not tell her. It would have been too dark-too dark altogether. The ambiguity evoked when Marlow s lie is referred to as a saving illusion becomes more explicit if we consider the significance of the Intended to Marlow, who has recently returned from the Congo. 2 The Intended is a spiritual person who cherishes an angelic illusion of the beauty of Kurtz s character. This illusion brings back to Marlow even more vividly the final invocation of Kurtz- The horror! The horror! emphasizing the meaninglessness and futility of the truth to a woman who has no real self and who has sacrificed all that is living in order to believe in a dead deal. She is so thunderingly exalted a creature as to be altogether deaf and blind to anything but heavenly sights and sounds. Hence, Marlow s lie becomes a saving illusion, which, in turn, is ironically redemptive. If it is a lie. A final ironic possibility remains-Marlow s remark may be ambiguous in the same way as his previous assertions: the horror and the name of Kurtz s Intended may be identical. But she is never to know this, can never know it. Kurtz had failed-his only victory had been in that he had retained enough presence of mind to name what he found in himself there the horror-the horror. But that failure had been a greater success than any that Marlow could conceive of any one s having in Europe. Why did not Marlow go back to Africa and take up Kurtz s life there as Stanley had taken up Livingston s? The answer is simply that he knew he his successful struggle to rescue Kurtz from throwing in his lot with the savages. However, Marlow knew where his heart was even if his bodily courage was not stout enough to follow it. He had seen a god in action, and he had heard his voice. Kurtz had had a voice like a god s and its tones were to remain louder in Marlow s ears than anything that was to sound in them thereafter. 3 Kurtz feels as though his very soul were decomposing within him. Kurtz could not go back that far, and Marlow much less; but the attempt to do so on Kurtz s part, and the temptation to do so on Marlow s, destroyed Kurtz s and nearly destroyed Marlow s ability and desire to regain a place in their natal group. Kurtz strayed so far from his natal group that he could not get back to it, and Marlow s distance from his group became so great that its gravitational pull on him became faint almost to extinction. Both Kurtz and Marlow sat in judgement on the society from which they sprang, but Kurtz died because he condemned and rejected that society while Marlow lived because the loss of his esteem for his group did not prevent him from working out a modus vivendi that kept open at least some channels of communication between him and the group to which he belonged. Marlow discovers that Kurtz has completely degenerated. He finds, on one level, a man who has committed unspeakable crimes against he fellows. On another and more important level, he sees a man who has totally succumbed to the irrational forces inherent in existence, a man who has allowed himself to sink to the darkest and lowest possible depths of evil. Conrad takes his deepest look into the human condition, and comes to perhaps his most pessimistic conclusions on the various and incompatible pressures that can be imposed on the human spirit. Furthermore, by observing Kurtz, Marlow discovers that in every man there is a potential hell. 4 Marlow realizes that Kurtz has been on trial in the Congo. His enlightened ideals
and aspirations had been tested against the dark powers of the wilderness, and he had failed the test. Kurtz s fate is that of any man who attempts to take upon himself the entire structure of morality. He surrendered himself to these powers, he has also betrayed the humanity in him. However, he himself has been reduced to a hollow man. Kurtz has been variously described in the story as a prodigy. an emissary of pity and science and progress, having higher intelligence, wide sympathies, a singleness of purpose, a special being, and a universal genius. Kurtz has chosen his destiny at the same time that has been man enough to confront the evil within it. Ironically, when Kurtz looks into his own soul he discovers that he is hollow at the core. His excessive greed results in the loss of integrity of his personality in his own eyes, Though his ascendancy was extraordinary the consciousness of self-degradation and loss of purpose in life horrifies him. Conrad presents Kurtz s all consuming, all- devouring personality through Marlow: It was as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory had been shaking its hand with menaces at a motionless crowd of men made of dark and glittering bronze. Marlow, having the capacity to understand this evil and resist it, knows why Kurtz has failed. He knows that result of Kurtz s trial reveals that this remarkable man lacks some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence. The small matter is restraint. Kurtz, at the inner station is deprived of the supports and restraints of society- the warning voice of kindly neighbors whispering of public opinion -the laws, customs, systems of reward and punishment prevalent in normal life. 5 In this wilderness there is nothing to prevent his invading and plundering remote tribes, from exhibiting the decapitated heads of rebel on his fence, from being worshipped like a god by the natives in unspeakable rites. He is a self-willed character who chose to embrace primitive life, but has been made so much out of time with Nature by civilized life that he fails to adjust himself to new environments. The man , on the other hand, is aware of the common humanity that links him with the black and incomprehensible frenzy of the darkness, with the savage and primitive forces with in him. A second distinction, however, exists between the man who, though aware of the appeal of the darkness, resists it, and the man who succumbs-that is, between Marlow and Kurtz. This further related to a vague and unsatisfactory distinction between principle and beliefs: Principles won t do you want a deliberate belief. Kurtz, however, is vulnerable. He is driven by a monstrous megalomania. Ambitious for power and fame, he is blessed or cursed with an immense gift for eloquence. But his eloquence is worthless, fa ade in relation to the wilderness and the gratification of his various lusts. Too late, he finally realizes he is deficient in inborn strength when he pronounces that judgement on the adventures of his soul: The horror! The horror! When Kurtz dies on the steamer taking him down the Congo, his last words, The horror! The horror! impressive and even terrifying as they are, are nevertheless thoroughly ambiguous. They might represent Kurtz s final desire to return to the scene of those satisfactions, be his judgement on the worthiness of his end, a comment on the human condition, or a vision of eternal damnation. 6 Marlow sees Kurtz s last words as a confession, as a final attempt at self-purification: a judgement upon the adventures of his soul upon this earth. This is the reason why I affirm the Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up-he had judged. The horror! After Kurtz s death, Marlow spends a long period hovering between life and death, undergoing the spiritual agony of a man whose illusions have been painfully shattered by viewing (and vicariously participating in) Kurtz s tragedy. Upon his return to Brussels, Marlow feels a different person from the young man he had been some months before. Marlow is saved by restraint. Kurtz is doomed by the lack of it. Kurtz is the essence of the lack of restraint Marlow sees everywhere. Kurtz has kicked himself loose from the earth. He owes no allegiance to anything except those animal powers, those various lusts, and those unprompted aspirations lurking in the darkness of the inner station. Marlow also responds to these dark callings; indeed, he almost becomes their captive. He confuses the beat of the drum (the call to man s primitive side) with his own heartbeat, and is pleased. Yet, he does not slip over the edge as Kurtz does. Marlow keeps to the track. When he is confronted with the ultimate evil where a man must fall back on his own innate strength, upon his own capacity for faithfulness, he is able to do so, he shows the necessary restraint.