The Heart of Darkness: The Horror!David YuIn Heart of Darkness it is the white invaders for instance, who are,almost without exception, embodiments of blindness, selfishness, andcruelty; and even in the cognitive domain, where such positivephrases as “to enlighten,” for instance, are conventionally opposedto negative ones such as “to be in the dark,” the traditionalexpectations 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. Thedestruction set upon the Congo by Europeans led to the cry of Kurtz’s lastwords, “The horror! The horror!” The horror in Heart of Darkness has beencritiqued to represent different aspects of situations in the book. However,Kurtz’s last words “The horror! The horror!” refer, to me, to magnify onlythree major aspects. The horror magnifies Kurtz not being able to restrainhimself, the colonizers’ greed, and Europe’s darkness. Kurtz comes to the Congo with noble intentions. He thought that eachivory station should stand like a beacon light, offering a better way of lifeto the natives.Order now
He was considered to be a “universal genius”: he was an orator,writer, poet, musician, artist, politician, ivory producer, and chief agent ofthe ivory company’s Inner Station. yet, he was also a “hollow man,” a manwithout basic integrity or any sense of social responsibility. “Kurtz issuesthe 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 darkside.
Once he entered within his “heart of darkness” he was shielded from thelight. Kurtz turned into a thief, murderer, raider, persecutor, and to climaxall 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, healternates between trying to return to the jungle and recalling ingrotesque terms his former idealism. Kurtz discovered, A voice!A voice! It rang deep to the very last. It survived his strengthto hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness ofhis heart. .
. . But both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate ofthe mysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of thatsoul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying, fame, of shamdistinction, of all the appearances of success and power. InevitablyKurtz 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 committedwhile in Africa.
The colonizers’ cruelty towards the natives and their lust for ivoryalso is spotlighted in Kurtz’s horror. The white men who came to the Congoprofessing to bring progress and light to “darkest Africa” have themselves beendeprived of the sanctions of their European social orders. The supposedpurpose of the colonizers’ traveling into Africa was to civilize the natives. Instead the Europeans took the natives’ land away from them by force. Theyburned their towns, stole their property, and enslaved them. “Enveloping thehorror of Kurtz is the Congo Free State of Leopold II, totally corrupt thoughto all appearances established to last for a long time” (Dorall 309).
Theconditions 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 cannibalismand the human skulls on the fence posts. Africans bound with thongs that contracted in the rain and cut tothe bone, had their swollen hands beaten with rifle butts until theyfell off. Chained slaves were forced to drink the white man’sdefecation, hands and feet were chopped off for their rings, menwere lined up behind each other and shot with one cartridge,wounded prisoners were eaten by maggots till they died and were thenthrown to starving dogs or devoured by cannibal tribes (Meyers 100). The colonizers enslaved the natives to do their biding; the cruelty practiced onthe black workers were of the white man’s mad and greedy rush for ivory. “Theunredeemable horror in the tale is the duplicity, cruelty, and venality ofEuropeans officialdom” (Levenson 401).
Civilization is only preserved by maintaining illusions. JulietMclauchlan, author of “The Value and Significance of Heart of Darkness,” statedthat every colonizer in Africa is to blame for the horror which took placewithin. Kurtz’s moral judgment applies supremely to his own soul, but hisfinal insight is all encompassing; looking upon humanity in fullawareness of his own degradation, he projects his debasement, failure,and hatred universally. Realizing that any human soul may befascinated, 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, wasa mass of horror and greed standardized by the colonizers.
As you recall inConrad’s Heart of Darkness, Kurtz painted a painting releasing his knowledge ofthe horror and what is to come. A painting of a blindfolded woman carrying alighted torch was discussed in the book. The background was dark, and theeffect of the torch light on her face was sinister. The oil painting suggeststhe blind and stupid ivory company, fraudulently letting people believe thatbesides the ivory they were taking out of the jungle, they were, at the sametime, 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 inhimself and has lived off the land like an animal. He has been exposed todesire, yet cannot comprehend it. His horror tells us his mistakes and that ofEurope’s. His mistakes of greed for ivory, his mistakes of lust for a mistressand his mistakes of assault on other villages, were all established when he wascut 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 andhumanitarian basis for his attack on colonialism. Conrad’s Kurtz mouths his last words, “The horror! The horror!” as amessage to himself and, through Marlow, to the world. However, he did notreally explain the meaning of his words to Marlow before his exit. ThroughMarlow’s summary and moral reactions, we come to realize the possibilities ofthe meaning rather than a definite meaning. “The message means more to Marlowand the readers than it does to Kurtz,” says William M.
Hagen, in “Heart ofDarkness and the Process of Apocalypse Now. ” “The horror” to Kurtz became thenightmare between Europe and Africa. To Marlow, Kurtz’s last words camethrough what he saw and experienced along the way into the Inner Station. Tome, Kurtz’s horror shadows every human, who has some form of darkness deepwithin their heart, waiting to be unleashed. “The horror that has beenperpetrated, the horror that descends as judgment, either in this pitiless andempty 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.
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Robert Kimbrough. New York: NortonCritical 1988. 306, 309. LaBrasca, Robert. Two Visions of “The Horror!”. Heart of Darkness.
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Levenson, Michael. The Value of Facts in the Heart of Darkness. Heart ofDarkness. By Joseph Conrad 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough.
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