“The point was in his being a gifted creature and that of all of 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, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness.” 

In the wake of the attack on Marlow’s steamer, he laments the possibility that Kurtz may already be dead and that he may never hear his voice. Kurtz, more than anything, is known as a voice, an image which gives him an almost otherworldly quality and emphasizes his ability to wield power over those whom colonialism silenced. He uses this “gift of expression,” for example, to write a horrifically dehumanizing pamphlet about Africans. Marlow’s observation of Kurtz’s voice as a “pulsating stream of light or [a] deceitful flow,” however, highlights his manipulative power and connects it to “an impenetrable darkness,” a move which further associates Kurtz’s character with the evil motivations behind colonialism.

“The wilderness had patted him on the head, and behold, it was like a ball—an ivory ball; it had caressed him and—lo!—he had withered; it had consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation.” 

Marlow offers this image of Kurtz near the end of Part 2 after admonishing his listeners for judging how he behaved in the wake of the helmsman’s death. Although these words do not come directly from Kurtz himself, the language that Marlow uses to describe him is very telling of his character. Likening Kurtz’s bald head to “an ivory ball” suggests that his obsession with the ivory trade is so extreme that it has encapsulated his entire being. As a result of this deep, unwavering fixation on harvesting ivory, Kurtz begins to physically degrade. Marlow ultimately suggests that Kurtz’s own greed, rather than the conditions of his environment, led to his downfall.

“It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair…He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: 'The horror! The horror!’” 

Arguably the most famous line from the entire novella, Kurtz cries out “The horror! The horror!” on his deathbed and passes away soon after. These last words, particularly ambiguous for a character otherwise known for his words, invite a number of interpretations. He may be horrified by the things he has seen in Africa, or he may be horrified by what he has done to Africa and its people. The context which Marlow provides seems to point towards the latter interpretation, the metaphorical removal of a veil suggesting a personal enlightenment and the expression of cowardice and despair replacing his pride and power.