Inthe novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Kurtz’sphysical illness is only a window that shows howdiseased his mind had become over time. Kurtz’s madness andsavageness made him physically ill because he was starting to see into thedepths of his own soul and realizes that the same thing could happen to anyone. Kurtz’s realization changed the perspective ofhumanity.As a person approaches a glimpse of heaven or hell. In Kurtz’ssituation, he saw hell because even though he was a good man, hissoul becomes empty because it has been damaged by greed and his lackof morality.
His last words show evidenceof this because he is being forced to leave Africa, which he sees as his ownsanctuary, and there he had the highest power. The power of the deepforests and the environment can really affect the mental state of anyone because of the unpredictability ofnature and the people within it. Colonialism is the main reason for theseeffects. Kurtz had no restraint but the ‘primitives’ still had a sense ofdecency, which was another reason he had lost his sanity and become a savage.He could not handle the animalistic nature surrounding him. Instead of stickingto his original task, he has been distracted because of the environment aroundhim.
Kurtz was theperfect embodiment of how investigating the heart of darkness can have a bigimpact on humanity. “Heart of Darkness” is not only referring to the placeinside Africa but it also shows the evil side ofEuropean Colonialism. Instead of becoming the light in this so-called “heart of darkness”, he did more harmthan good, causing him to lose all sanity, morality, and his previouslyimpeccable reputation. Kurtz’s passion for ivory was good and bad at the sametime. The amount of ivory he was gathering was very good. However, the wayKurtz was obtaining these goods made him act like a madman. Kurtz’s obsessionfor ivory was one of the reasons he’s lost all that is good in his life. Hismethods were putting the Company at risk and his own reputation was sinkingdown, but he does not care because he’s become mad.
Kurtz went from being “thechief of the inner station” (Conrad 29) to an ill man who ruled the natives. Hewent to Africa in hopes of civilizing the natives but was immediately blindedby the power and he then continued to exploit the natives. This kind ofexploitation is what made Kurtz become a savage himself. His mental insanityhas made him bodily sick because of a ‘seeing’ he has made from his own soul.
Africa itself is full of mental detonation and unknown diseases back in theday. It is interpreted that Kurtz saw the corruption and depravity of humanity.The notes in the “International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs”shows a very clear way of Kurtz evolving into a madman.
Charles Marlow said that”It made me tingle with enthusiasm” (Conrad 63) from the beginning of readingthe article, but as the article comes to an end, the handwriting was writtenwith “an unsteady hand” (Conrad 63). The postscriptum is the part of thepamphlet that took Marlow a second to digest, all it said was “Exterminate allthe brutes!” (Conrad 63) written harshly. It represents his declining sanity. As he spent moretime in Africa with the savages, the more he became mad, and the more he becamemad, the closer he was to death. Kurtz’s last words were, “The horror! Thehorror!” (Conrad 90). This is a cry pain and surrender for Kurtz.
Marlowdescribed Kurtz’s last words as, “the expression of somber pride, of ruthlesspower, of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair” (Conrad 90) leavingroom for audience interpretation. Even though Kurtz was expecting death fromhis illness, his life still flashed before his eyes. He saw, “some image, atsome vision” (Conrad 90) and this is heaven or hell. Kurtz had been describedas a remarkable man throughout the novel by people in Europe who knew himbefore his voyages.
However, by the end of the book, his soul was empty becausehe was too greedy and manipulative. His madness also represents amorality andhis overall character represents all that is bad in imperialism. The glimpse ofhell made him scream his last words knowing that he could potentially stay downthere forever, and this would make him suffer in life and death.
Colonialismis the exploitation of resources and ethics to one country by another and the dominantcountry extends control and authority over the weaker people, as well as their territories.This colonial exploitation that Kurtz tried to force to the Africans, happenedto him in reverse. Instead of him civilizing Africa, he became a savage.
Sincehis original plan to colonize the natives did not work out, he formed a bondwith the savages causing Kurtz to be their god-like figure. When going into theheart of Africa, Kurtz didn’t know whatawaits him when he gets there. This unawareness affected his mental statebecause he didn’t feel like he belonged in Africa with the natives. When Kurtzobtained this power, he became amoral and had no restraint.
The natives werethe ones who held back from cannibalizing and ate hippotamus meat instead ofhuman flesh. Kurtz however, attacked every village in sight. He even decoratedhuts with heads on stakes as fences. Marlow himself keeps saying “Restraint!What possible restraint?” (Conrad 52). The term ‘darkness’ is referred to by Marlowas the heart of the jungle itself. Darkness is used metaphorically andsymbolically throughout the book, rather than specifically. It is what’s eatingaway everything that is left of Kurtz’s sanity and is the cause of hisdestroyed soul.
Kurtz’s character is theperfect example of what happens when humans try to Colonialize their ethics onto the natives. Instead of being light to the people and the place itself, thedistraction given to him by greed and amorality made him do more harm thangood. The meaning of ivory has also been changed. Over time, Kurtz didn’t seeit as a precious resource anymore, but instead, he saw it as an excuse toattack villages and use his superiority.
Even though collecting loads ivorygave a good name to the people back in Europe, his madness did not make him seehow this is doing harm to his reputation.