Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness
In Heart of Darkness it is the white invaders
for instance, who are, almost without exception, embodiments of blindness,
selfishness, and cruelty; and even in the cognitive domain, where such
positive phrases as “to enlighten,” for instance, are conventionally opposed
to negative ones such as “to be in the dark,” the traditional expectations
are reversed. In Kurtz’s painting, as we have seen, “the effect of the
torch light on the face was sinister” (Watt 332).
Ian Watt, author of “Impressionism and
Symbolism in Heart of Darkness,” discusses about the destruction set upon
the Congo by Europeans. The destruction set upon the Congo by Europeans
led to the cry of Kurtz’s last words, “The horror! The horror!” The horror
in Heart of Darkness has been critiqued to represent different aspects
of situations in the book. However, Kurtz’s last words “The horror! The
horror!” refer, to me, to magnify only three major aspects. The horror
magnifies Kurtz not being able to restrain himself, the colonizers’ greed,
and Europe’s darkness.
Kurtz comes to the Congo with noble intentions.
He thought that each ivory station should stand like a beacon light, offering
a better way of life to the natives. He was considered to be a “universal
genius”: he was an orator, writer, poet, musician, artist, politician,
ivory producer, and chief agent of the ivory company’s Inner Station. yet,
he was also a “hollow man,” a man without basic integrity or any sense
of social responsibility. “Kurtz issues the feeble cry, ‘The horror! The
horror!’ and the man of vision, of poetry, the ’emissary of pity, and science,
and progress’ is gone. The jungle closes’ round” (Labrasca 290). Kurtz
being cut off from civilization reveals his dark side. Once he entered
within his “heart of darkness” he was shielded from the light. Kurtz turned
into a thief, murderer, raider, persecutor, and to climax all of his other
shady practices, he allows himself to be worshipped as a god. E. N. Dorall,
author of “Conrad and Coppola: Different Centres of Darkness,” explains
Kurtz’s loss of his identity.
Daring to face the consequences of his
nature, he loses his identity; unable to be totally beast and never able
to be fully human, he alternates between trying to return to the jungle
and recalling in grotesque terms his former idealism. Kurtz discovered,
A voice! A voice! It rang deep to the very last. It survived his strength
to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of his
heart…. But 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. Inevitably Kurtz collapses, his last
words epitomizing his experience, The horror! The horror! (Dorall 306).
The horror to Kurtz is about self realization;
about the mistakes he committed while in Africa.
The colonizers’ cruelty towards the natives
and their lust for ivory also is spotlighted in Kurtz’s horror. The white
men who came to the Congo professing to bring progress and light to “darkest
Africa” have themselves been deprived of the sanctions of their European
social orders. The supposed purpose of the colonizers’ traveling into Africa
was to civilize the natives. Instead the Europeans took the natives’ land
away from them by force. They burned their towns, stole their property,
and enslaved them. “Enveloping the horror of Kurtz is the Congo Free State
of Leopold II, totally corrupt though to all appearances established to
last for a long time” (Dorall 309). The conditions described in Heart of
Darkness reflect the horror of Kurtz’s words: the chain gangs, the grove
of death, the payment in brass rods, the cannibalism and the human skulls
on the fence posts.
Africans bound with thongs that contracted
in the rain and cut to the bone, had their swollen hands beaten with rifle
butts until they fell off. Chained slaves were forced to drink the white
man’s defecation, hands and feet were chopped off for their rings, men
were lined up behind each other and shot with one cartridge, wounded prisoners
were eaten by maggots till they died and were then thrown to starving dogs
or devoured by cannibal tribes (Meyers 100).
The colonizers enslaved the natives to
do their biding; the cruelty practiced on the black workers were of the
white man’s mad and greedy rush for ivory. “The unredeemable horror in
the tale is the duplicity, cruelty, and venality of Europeans officialdom”
Civilization is only preserved by maintaining
illusions. Juliet Mclauchlan, author of “The Value and Significance of
Heart of Darkness,” stated that every colonizer in Africa is to blame for
the horror which took place within.
Kurtz’s moral judgment applies supremely
to his own soul, but his final insight is all encompassing; looking upon
humanity in full awareness of his own degradation, he projects his debasement,
failure, and hatred universally. Realizing that any human soul may be fascinated,
held irresistible, by what it rightly hates, his stare is “wide enough
to embrace the whole universe,” wide and immense…. embracing, condemning,
loathing all the universe (Mclauchlan 384).
The darkness of Africa collides with the
evils of Europe upon Kurtz’s last words. Kurtz realized that all he had
been taught to believe in, to operate from, was a mass of horror and greed
standardized by the colonizers. As you recall in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness,
Kurtz painted a painting releasing his knowledge of the horror and what
is to come. A painting of a blindfolded woman carrying a lighted torch
was discussed in the book. The background was dark, and the effect of the
torch light on her face was sinister. The oil painting suggests the blind
and stupid ivory company, fraudulently letting people believe that besides
the ivory they were taking out of the jungle, they were, at the same time,
bringing light and progress to the jungle.
Kurtz, stripped away of his culture by
the greed of other Europeans, stands both literally and figuratively naked.
He has lost all restraint in himself and has lived off the land like an
animal. He has been exposed to desire, yet cannot comprehend it. His horror
tells us his mistakes and that of Europe’s. His mistakes of greed for ivory,
his mistakes of lust for a mistress and his mistakes of assault on other
villages, were all established when he was cut off from civilization. When
Conrad wrote what Kurtz’s last words were to be, he did not exaggerate
or invent the horrors that provided the political and humanitarian basis
for his attack on colonialism.
Conrad’s Kurtz mouths his last words, “The
horror! The horror!” as a message to himself and, through Marlow, to the
world. However, he did not really explain the meaning of his words to Marlow
before his exit. Through Marlow’s summary and moral reactions, we come
to realize the possibilities of the meaning rather than a definite meaning.
“The message means more to Marlow and the readers than it does to Kurtz,”
says William M. Hagen, in “Heart of Darkness and the Process of Apocalypse
Now.” “The horror” to Kurtz became the nightmare between Europe and Africa.
To Marlow, Kurtz’s last words came through what he saw and experienced
along the way into the Inner Station. To me, Kurtz’s horror shadows every
human, who has some form of darkness deep within their heart, waiting to
be unleashed. “The horror that has been perpetrated, the horror that descends
as judgment, either in this pitiless and empty death or in whatever domination
there could be to come” (Stewart 366). Once the horror was unleashed, there
was no way of again restraining it.
Dorall, E. N. Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed. Ed. Robert
Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical 1988. 306, 309.
LaBrasca, Robert. Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough.
New York: Norton Critical 1988. 290.
Levenson, Michael. Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed.
Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical 1988. 401.
McLauchlan, Juliet. Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed. Ed.
Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical 1988. 384.
Meyers, Jeffrey. Joseph Conrad. New York:
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1991.
Stewart, Garrett. Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough.
New York: Norton Critical 1988. 266.
Watt, Ian. Heart of Darkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed. Ed. Robert
Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical 1988. 332.