Heart of Darkness III

17 Feb

+Study question: what is the importance of Kurtz’ amazing voice?

* The Russian is “motley, as though he had absconded from a troupe of mimes, enthusiastic, fabulous.” How can he exist? He is an “insoluble problem” (a problem of interpretation). He says, “I went a little farther, then still a little farther — till I had gone so far that I don’t know how I’ll ever get back. Never mind. Plenty time. I can manage. You take Kurtz away quick — quick — I tell you.”

* Hearing of the Russian’s conversations with Kurtz, Marlow feels the jungle to be darker than ever. Kurtz apparently hates the place, but has it in his thrall and cannot get away. (His identity is bound up with it.)

* Marlow sees the shrunken heads on posts surrounding Kurtz’ house. They do not seem so horrible to him as what he imagines the ceremonies for approaching Kurtz may be. “After all, that was only a savage sight, while I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief, being something that had a right to exist — obviously — in the sunshine.”

* The Russian seems to believe that Kurtz has gone overboard as he has precisely because he had such lofty ideas. Now Kurtz arrives and appears to be near death. But his voice is amazing. And then his fabulous woman appears. He says his “idea” is good and he will carry it out yet. To Marlow Kurtz already appears less unsound than the woman, the manager, and the rest of the atmosphere. Thus Marlow realizes that he is also marked as “unsound.”

* The Russian realizes he is in danger and/or obsolete, and leaves. Night falls, and Kurtz’ followers are beating a drum and chanting, mesmerizing Marlow. Then they fall silent; Marlow goes to Kurtz’ cabin, but he is gone. Marlow feels horror, and the thought of an actual, physical massacre is calming by contrast. He goes off to look for Kurtz.

* “I did not betray Mr. Kurtz — it was ordered I should never betray him — it was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice. I was anxious to deal with this shadow by myself alone — and to this day I don’t know why I was so jealous of sharing with any one the peculiar blackness of that experience.”

* He finds Kurtz near the campfires. “I had to beat that Shadow — this wandering and tormented thing,” says Marlow. Kurtz says he knows exactly what he is doing. But Marlow has to convince him to come away. Kurtz, he feels, is “struggling blindly with himself.” He carries Kurtz away, but has gone over to his side. And yet the African scene is, to Marlow, one of unspeakable horror. Kurtz discourses on his great ideas. And, “‘Oh, but I will wring your heart yet!’ he cried at the invisible wilderness.

* Kurtz is dying. “His was an impenetrable darkness.” As he dies, he says, “‘The horror! The horror!’” Marlow later says, “He had summed up — he had judged. ‘The horror!’ He was a remarkable man. After all, this was the expression of some sort of belief; it had candour, it had conviction, it had a vibrating note of revolt in its whisper, it had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth — the strange commingling of desire and hate.” He has remained “loyal to Kurtz to the last” because Kurtz, so to speak, went to the ends of things (and because of his ‘voice’).

* Marlow has the fever and almost dies. But he gets back to Brussels and it seems absolutely silly. He refuses to give up Kurtz’ papers. Finally he gives the pamphlet on the suppression of savage customs to a journalist, and is left with private letters and a picture of Kurtz’ Intended. He decides to give these back to her.

* As he goes to her house, he has a vision of Kurtz and Africa. “The vision seemed to enter the house with me — the stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of the reach between the murky bends, the beat of the drum, regular and muffled like the beating of a heart — the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul.”

* The tall marble fireplace in the Intended’s house has a “monumental whiteness” (contrast the ritual fires in Africa, the heart of darkness). Yet he can see how the Intended is Kurtz’ other half. She believes in “the great, saving illusion.” And she believes he has set a wonderful example. Marlow says, “I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live, and I shall see her, too, a tragic and familiar Shade, resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernal stream, the stream of darkness.”

* She wants to know what his very last words were. Marlow can hardly believe she cannot hear them. But he says they were her name, and she says she knew it. “I could not tell her. It would have been too dark — too dark altogether. . . .”

* Marlow stops talking. The boat has lost track of the tide, and is becalmed, and a dark bank of clouds bars vision: it is as though the river leads into “an immense darkness.”

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Posted by on February 17, 2008 in Conrad


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