The Last Disciple: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness
When a man’s life is the sea he has much time to think about that life and who he really is or might be. In Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad introduces readers to two such men who are at different stages of their quest to find out who they are. The two men, Marlow and Kurtz, possess traits that are a little common to every man’s life, and seem to be heading in a similar direction. The career Kurtz has made for himself is not one of admiration. Kurtz had been considered in the past to be an honorable man, but his exposure to the jungle and the evil within that jungle has turned him into a sick and evil man. Despite all of this Marlow maintains that “Kurtz was a remarkable man” (1480) and remains “loyal to Kurtz at the last” (1481). Marlow says this of Kurtz because he, like Kurtz, entered the Congo with what he believed to be good intentions, and even though he may see that Kurtz is doing the wrong thing he admirers him because in the end Kurtz has a revelation before his death in which he discovers himself and how horrible the duplicity of man can be.
As Marlow makes his journey up the river all he can think about is Kurtz. In this mission to find Kurtz, Marlow compares everyone he meets to him. As well as trying to find Kurtz, Marlow is in fact trying to find himself. As Kurtz continues he finds himself “getting savage” which implies that he was becoming more like Kurtz. Kurtz is a murderer, thief, persecutor, and worst of all he allows himself to be worshiped as a God. Marlow is not like this at all. Marlow cannot even “bear a lie” (1446) let alone do the horrible things that Kurtz has done. After all of this why would Marlow say that Kurtz is a “remarkable man”? He does this because Kurtz was able, on his deathbed, to judge what he had done was wrong. “The horror! The horror” cried Kurtz as his final words. Marlow doesn’t at first know what to make of this but latter comes to more of a realization.Marlow says that he has “peeped over the edge himself” and because of this he can “understand better the meaning of his stare.” What Marlow is implying is that he too has looked lustfully at the evil side of life that he could easily had turned to and because of this better understands the look in Kurtz’s eyes. “It the stare was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all of the hearts that beat in the darkness… he had summed up, he had judged.” Marlow believes at this point that everything in life had now become clear to Kurtz. Marlow now knew that inside of every man is an evil side. When Marlow states that “Kurtz was a remarkable man” he is not saying Kurtz was a great man. One must remember that remarkable means impressive or unusual, not great. Kurtz certainly was unusual.
Upon Marlow’s arrival at Kurtz’s ivory death compound he is introduced to another admirer of Kurtz. The man is a twenty-five-year-old Russian seaman and has been taking care of the now ill Kurtz at the Inner Station. Not too long after meeting the Russian, Marlow refers to him as Kurtz’s “last disciple” (1471).Marlow makes it clear that Kurtz is no “idol” of his to the Russian but later becomes the “disciple” himself (1471). Marlow becomes this “disciple” not because of what Kurtz has done, but rather what Kurtz has taught him. The “Heart of Darkness” is the evil within man. Marlow was slowly slipping into his “heart of darkness” before Kurtz had his deathbed realization.
Marlow learned a lot from Kurtz. Regardless of his former humanity, Kurtz had proceeded all of his evil with a sane mind. It was his spirituality that had been corrupted. Conrad uses Kurtz to demonstrate the evil that lurks in all men waiting to be set free. He is telling us that man is not as far from the horrors which society has condemned. Marlow remains “loyal to Kurtz at the last” (1481) because he has taught Marlow of the “heart of darkness” within all of us. That evil side lurking within that must be controlled if we are to keep our humanity.