Heart of Darkness

by: Joseph Conrad

Part 3 (continued)

Although both Marlow and the Intended construct idealized versions of Kurtz to make sense out of their respective worlds, in the end, Marlow’s version of Kurtz is upheld as the more profound one. Marlow emphasizes his disgust at the complacency of the people he meets in Brussels in order to validate his own store of worldly experience. Marlow’s narrative implies that his version of Kurtz, as well as his accounts of Africa and imperialism, are inherently better and truer than other people’s because of what he has experienced. This notion is based on traditional ideas of heroism, involving quests and trials in the pursuit of knowledge. In fact, by seeming to legitimize activities like imperialism for their experiential value for white men—in other words, by making it appear that Africa is the key to philosophical truth—the ending of Heart of Darkness introduces a much greater horror than any Marlow has encountered in the Congo. Are the evils of colonialism excusable in the name of “truth” or knowledge, even if they are not justifiable in the name of wealth? This paradox accounts at least partially for the novella’s frame story. Marlow recounts his experiences to his friends because doing so establishes an implicit comparison. The other men aboard the Nellie are the kind of men who benefit economically from imperialism, while Marlow has benefited mainly experientially. While Marlow’s “truth” may be more profound than that of his friends or Kurtz’s Intended, it may not justify the cost of its own acquisition.