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Heart of Darkness

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“I am not disclosing any trade secrets. In fact, the manager said afterwards that Mr. Kurtz’s methods had ruined the district. I have no opinion on that point, but I want you clearly to understand that there was nothing exactly profitable in these heads being there. They only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, that there was something wanting in him—some small matter which, when the pressing need arose, could not be found under his magnificent eloquence. Whether he knew of this deficiency himself I can’t say. I think the knowledge came to him at last—only at the very last. But the wilderness had found him out early, and had taken on him a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it had whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude—and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating. It echoed loudly within him because he was hollow at the core.... I put down the glass, and the head that had appeared near enough to be spoken to seemed at once to have leaped away from me into inaccessible distance. “I’m not revealing any business secrets here. In fact, the manager said later that Mr. Kurtz’s methods had ruined the district. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but there was nothing to be gained financially by putting those heads on sticks. They only showed that Mr. Kurtz had given in to his dark desires and that there was something wrong with him. Despite his powerful speech, there was something missing. I don’t know whether he knew this. I think he realized it right at the end, but only then. The jungle had discovered it early on and had taken its revenge on him for the invasion he was part of. It whispered things to him, things about himself that he didn’t know until he was out there alone. That whisper echoed loudly inside him because he was hollow. I lowered my binoculars. The head that looked close enough to speak to seemed to leap back to where I could no longer reach it.
“The admirer of Mr. Kurtz was a bit crestfallen. In a hurried, indistinct voice he began to assure me he had not dared to take these—say, symbols—down. He was not afraid of the natives; they would not stir till Mr. Kurtz gave the word. His ascendancy was extraordinary. The camps of these people surrounded the place, and the chiefs came every day to see him. They would crawl.... ‘I don’t want to know anything of the ceremonies used when approaching Mr. Kurtz,’ I shouted. Curious, this feeling that came over me that such details would be more intolerable than those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz’s windows. 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 young man looked at me with surprise. I suppose it did not occur to him that Mr. Kurtz was no idol of mine. He forgot I hadn’t heard any of these splendid monologues on, what was it? on love, justice, conduct of life—or what not. If it had come to crawling before Mr. Kurtz, he crawled as much as the veriest savage of them all. I had no idea of the conditions, he said: these heads were the heads of rebels. I shocked him excessively by laughing. Rebels! What would be the next definition I was to hear? There had been enemies, criminals, workers—and these were rebels. Those rebellious heads looked very subdued to me on their sticks. ‘You don’t know how such a life tries a man like Kurtz,’ cried Kurtz’s last disciple. ‘Well, and you?’ I said. ‘I! I! I am a simple man. I have no great thoughts. I want nothing from anybody. How can you compare me to...?’ His feelings were too much for speech, and suddenly he broke down. ‘I don’t understand,’ he groaned. ‘I’ve been doing my best to keep him alive, and that’s enough. I had no hand in all this. I have no abilities. There hasn’t been a drop of medicine or a mouthful of invalid food for months here. He was shamefully abandoned. A man like this, with such ideas. Shamefully! Shamefully! I—I—haven’t slept for the last ten nights...’ “Kurtz’s admirer was a little disappointed. He told me that he was afraid to take these ‘symbols’ down. Not afraid of the natives—they wouldn’t move until Kurtz gave the word. They lived all around the station and their chiefs came every day to see Kurtz. They would crawl—‘I don’t want to hear about it,’ I shouted. It was odd, but I felt that hearing details like that would somehow be worse than seeing the heads. The heads were a savage sight, but they seemed like a relief compared to the horror the clown was describing. He looked at me in surprise. It hadn’t occurred to him that I didn’t idolize Mr. Kurtz. He forgot that I hadn’t ever heard any of Kurtz’s splendid speeches about love, justice, how to live a good life, and so on. I didn’t crawl before Kurtz like he did. He said that I didn’t know what the conditions had been like. Those heads were captured rebels. I laughed. Rebels! How would these people be described next? I’d heard them called enemies and criminals and workers, and now these ones were called rebels. They didn’t look very rebellious now. ‘You don’t know how hard life is for someone like Kurtz,’ cried the dying man’s last disciple. ‘Do you?’ I asked. ‘Me? I’m a simple man. I don’t have any great thoughts. I don’t want anything. How can you compare me to…?’ He broke down, overcome by his feelings. ‘I don’t understand,’ he groaned. ‘I’ve been trying to keep him alive. That’s all. I didn’t have anything to do with this. There hasn’t been any medicine for months. He was abandoned. A man like this, with such great ideas. It’s a shame—a shame. I-I haven’t slept for ten nights . . .’

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