.. s misrepresentation, meeting a man who is called the “bricklayer”. However, as Marlow himself points out, “there wasn’t a fragment of a brick anywhere in the station”(Conrad, 39). During his voyage, however, Marlow doesn’t only observe this misnaming, but realizes the importance of a name. While overhearing a conversation between the manager of the station and his uncle, he hears Mr. Kurtz being referred to as “that man”(Conrad, 53). Although Marlow hasn’t met Kurtz yet, he has heard of his greatness.
He now realizes that by these men calling him “that man”, they strip him of all his attributes. When one hears Kurtz, they think of a ” very remarkable person”(Conrad, 39). These men are now, by not referring to him by his name, denying Kurtz’s accomplishments. This same idea of distorting a person’s character by changing his name is displayed elsewhere. The Europeans apply the terms ‘enemy’ and ‘criminals’ to the natives. In actuality, they are simply “bewildered and helpless victims..and moribund shadows”(Berthoud. 46).
Clearly, the injustice done by the simple misnaming of someone is unbelievable. After witnessing all of these names which bare no true meaning, as well as possibly degrade a person’s character, Marlow understands that he can not continue in his former ways of mindlessly giving random names to something in fear of diminishing the essence of the recipient. As a result, Marlow finds himself unable to label something for what it is. While under attack, Marlow refers to the arrows being shot in his direction as “sticks, little sticks”, and a spear being thrown at his boat “a long cane”(Conrad, 75-77). When Marlow arrives at the inner station, he sees “slim posts..in a row” with their “ends ornamented with round carved balls”(Conrad, 88).
In truth, these are poles with skulls on top of them. Marlow can formulate a name even for the simplest of things and see them for what they are. Taking a step back and looking at his voyage, Marlow realizes the insignificant, mindless, meaningless labels, which the Europeans use to identify with something, and he wants to be able to give to experience, names that have some substance. At this point, he is similar to Adam in the Garden of Eden who is “watching the parade of nameless experience” go by. However, Marlow is missing an essential ability, which Adam possessed.
As opposed to Adam, who was delegated by God to name experiences, Marlow lacked this authority to name. It is Kurtz who will become this authority, and eventually teach Marlow the essence of a name. Mr. Kurtz is the Chief of the Inner Station. He is a “universal genius, a prodigy, an emissary of pity science and progress”(Conrad, 40-45).
It is Kurtz who will teach Marlow what a name is, for one simple reason. “The man presented himself as a voice..of all his gifts, the one that stood out preeminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words—the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating”(Conrad, 79). Kurtz was “little more than a voice”(Conrad, 80), but there was no one with a voice like his. He could speak with remarkable eloquence, he could write with such precision..he could name with true meaning! “You don’t talk with that man [Kurtz], you listen to him”(Conrad, 90). Marlow has heard enough about Kurtz, in this case from his devoted pupil, to know that it is he who can provide Marlow with the authority to offer correct and substantial names Indeed, Kurtz gives Marlow everything he is looking for.
However, he does it in a very unconventional way. Kurtz teaches Marlow the lesson with his last words. “The horror! The horror!”(Conrad, 118). These last words are Kurtz’s own judgment, judgment on the life which he has lived. He is barbarous, unscrupulous, and possibly even evil.
However, he has evaluated his life, and he has “pronounced a judgment upon the adventures of his soul on this earth”(Conrad, 118). Marlow sees Kurtz “open his mouth wide—it gave him a weirdly voracious aspect, as though he wanted to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men before him”(Conrad, 101). Kurtz takes everything in. He takes his life, and puts it all out on the table. “He had summed up— he had judged..The horror!”(Conrad, 119).
Kurtz’s last words is his way of teaching Marlow the essence of a name were that a name is not merely a label. It is one man’s own judgment of an isolated event. However, unlike the Europeans who judge based on already existing principles which they have ‘acquired’, Kurtz taught Marlow to look inside of himself and to judge based on his own subjective creeds. While Marlow is recounting the story, he says to his comrades: “He must meet that truth with his own true stuff—with his own inborn strength. Principles won’t do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags—rags that would fly off at the first good shake.
No, you want a deliberate belief. An appeal to me in this fiendish row—is there? Very well; I hear; I admit, but have a voice too, and for good or evil mine is the voice that can not be silenced (Conrad, 60).” This judgment must be from one’s own internal strengths. That is why Marlow says, “for good or evil, mine is the speech that can not be silenced”. As Kurtz has taught him with his own judgment, a judgment of truth overpowers morality. To find one’s own reality, one must not rely solely on other people’s morality, others people’s ‘principles’; he must assess his own life. Kurtz showed that regardless of whether the truth is good or bad, one must face up to his reality.
He must face up to his own actions even when the conclusion is “the horror”, and by doing so, he will find his true reality. Marlow understands that being true to yourself is not following another’s moral code, but being able to judge one’s self honestly and uncover their own reality. It is because of this understanding that Marlow claims that Kurtz’s last words are “a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats”(Conrad, 120). Despite Kurtz’s immoral ways, he is victorious because he didn’t run away from the truth, and that is his moral victory; he is true to himself. On his voyage, Marlow notices at one of the stations, a picture that Kurtz had drawn when he was there. It is a “sketch in oils on a panel representing a woman draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch.
The background was sombre—almost black”(Conrad, 40). At the time, Marlow didn’t really know what it meant. However, this is a precise representation of Kurtz himself. First, the background was “sombre—almost black”. This is a manifestation of Kurtz because his life is full of darkness. He kills, he steals, and he is worshipped as a God. Kurtz cannot be without blackness and survive.
In addition, the picture displays the lesson itself. It is a picture of the lady of justice holding a torch. This is Kurtz’s role. Unlike Europe, which imposes their principles upon others, he is merely there to illuminate. Kurtz is there to expand the peoples minds, to introduce them to a broad new spectrum of reality.
However, he does not impose his own reality upon them. Hence, he is blindfolded in the picture. To him, they make a subjective decision and they find their own truth, regardless of what that truth may be. Eventually Marlow realizes that Kurtz’s picture was in essence, a self-portrait. The same thing which Kurtz conveyed with ‘the horror’, he conveyed with this picture. Marlow’s realization is evident with this remark.
“I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what’s in the work—the chance to find yourself. Your own reality—for yourself, not for others”(Conrad, 47). Marlow learns the essence of ‘naming’ and understands what it means to ‘be yourself’. However, Marlow has encountered two extremes. The European mentality, which is completely oblivious to reality, and Kurtz, a man who has found his reality, but it is one of horror and no restraint from any wrongdoing. He is now returning to his home to deal with his former world, however, he now possesses his new’understanding’.
Marlow cannot return to his previous ‘European ways’ simply because he has ‘been enlightened’ and lost his naivete. However, why can’t he adapt Kurtz’s ways and live the other extreme? At one point, Marlow had “peeped over the edge”(Conrad, 119). Why didn’t he ‘jump over’? Marlow is repelled from joining Kurtz for several reasons. Firstly, Kurtz had “kicked himself loose from the earth..he had kicked the earth to pieces. He was alone, and I [Marlow] before him did not know whether I stood on the ground or floated in the air”(Conrad, 112). Kurtz had denied any sort of moral convictions in order to be worshipped as a God. Because of this unmonitered power, Kurtz lost all sense of restraint and became the savage that he was. Marlow, however, has not lost his sense of morality.
What Marlow rejected in Kurtz was the complete absence of any humane or remotely sane actions. It is because of Marlow’s rejection of both the Europeans, who Marlow claims are full of “stupid importance”, and of Kurtz’s inability to establish his own moral code, that Marlow chooses an “alternative reality”(Berthoud. 60). The first time the reader witnesses Marlow’s choice and becomes a centrist, is when he first gets back to Europe. Marlow finds himself resenting the way the Europeans went about their life, “hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other”(Conrad, 120).
Not only did he find their lives meaningless, but he mocked them to himself. “I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty restraining myself from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance.. I tottered about the streets..grinning bitterly at perfectly respectable people. I admit my behavior was inexcusable” (Conrad, 120). Although Marlow looked down upon these Europeans, he says something remarkable. He judged his own actions and found them ‘inexcusable’.
This is his manifestation of breaking away from Kurtz’s extreme. Unlike Kurtz who lacked all restraint and would never find looking down on people bad, Marlow realized that he couldn’t hold it against them simply because they didn’t know better. Clearly, Marlow has edged toward a middle ground. He has been able to create some comfortable fusion between Kurtzs edge of complete reality with a lack of moral conscience, with that of the unknowing, and apparently uncaring world from which he came. Bibliography Berthoud, Jacques A.
Joseph Conrad: The Major Phase (British Authors Introductory Critical Studies). Cambridge Univ. Press. 1978 Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness: Backgrounds and Criticisms.
New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1960. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness 3rd ed. Ed. Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton Critical, 1988.