Heart of Darkness is a story about Marlow’s journey to discover his inner self. Along the way, Marlow faces his fears of failure, insanity, death, and cultural contamination on his trek to the inner station. Marlow, who goes on his journey to meet Kurtz, already has a fascination with Kurtz after listening to many people along the way. Conrad tries to show us that Marlow is what Kurtz had been, and Kurtz is what Marlow could become. Marlow says about himself, “I was getting savage,” meaning that he was becoming more like Kurtz.
Along the trip into the wilderness, they discover their true selves through contact with the native people. On one occasion, the steamer is attacked by a party of natives, killing the helmsmen and frightening the crew. This event triggers a change in Marlow, who takes off his shoes, which were covered in his friend’s blood. This taking off of clothes is a return to nature, bringing about a more primitive Marlow. Even as Marlow ventures further up the Congo, he feels like he is traveling back through time. He sees the unsettled wilderness and can feel the darkness of its solitude and immensity.
Marlow comes across simpler cannibalistic cultures along the banks. The deeper into the jungle he goes, the more regressive the inhabitants seem. Kurtz has lived in the Congo, and thus has been separated from his own culture for quite some time. He had once been considered an honorable man, but the jungle changed him greatly. Here, secluded from the rest of European society, he discovers his evil side and becomes corrupted by his power and solitude. In once instance, Marlow is outraged and upset when Kurtz threatened to kill him if he did not give him the ivory.
Killing Marlow would not be beneficial to Kurtz in any form; thus the fact that Kurtz is willing to kill over a small amount of ivory indicates the influence of the native people and the lack of law in the land. Kurtz does not think, but instead relies on gut instinct and his survival skills, which have allowed him to survive in the jungle as long as he had. Marlow tries to distance himself from Kurtz in his mind, but Marlow also tries to make himself believe that he is not like Kurtz and he will not and can not do the things Kurtz does. When he follows Kurtz he stays to the edge of the woods not venturing any further.
This represents Marlow’s unwillingness to participate in Kurtz’s actions and atrocities. Marlow realizes that the Congo reveals the evil and savagery in an individual. Conrad also depicts Kurtz as a deity to the natives, allowing them to dance around him and be worshipped as a god. It appears that while Kurtz has been isolated from his culture, he has become corrupted by this violent native culture, and allows his evil side to control him. Marlow realizes that only very near the time of death, does a person grasp the big picture. Marlow describes Kurtz’s last moments “as though a veil had been rent.
Kurtz’s last “supreme moment of complete knowledge (pg. 68),” showed Marlow how horrible the human soul really can be. Marlow can only speculate as to what Kurtz sees that causes him to exclaim “The horror! The horror,” but later adds that “since I peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare (pg. 69). ” Marlow guesses that at Kurtz’s death he suddenly revealed everything and discovers how horrible the duplicity of man can be. Through the death of Kurtz, Marlow can better reflect on himself as an individual and the changes that the jungle have made on him.
He realizes the evil of Kurtz, and engages in attempting to rid himself of Kurtz’s influences. By allowing the stockpiled ivory of the inner station to float down the river, Marlow is acting in defiance of Kurtz’s stinginess and Kurtz’s willingness to kill over monetary goods. Marlow’s journey into the jungle parallels his physical journey and the deeper inner journey to the inner station. Marlow and Kurtz have similar paths in life, but they each choose a different path. Marlow sees through Kurtz’s actions that the jungle can bring a decent man to savagery, while Kurtz is the beginning of the darkness that lurks in the hearts of all men.