Heart of Darkness

by: Joseph Conrad

Five Key Questions

Summary Five Key Questions

4) What do Kurtz’s last words mean?

Kurtz’s last words—“The horror! The horror!”—can be interpreted in various ways. Firstly, and most simply, they could be a response to a fever dream as Kurtz’s body and mind disintegrate. More likely, these words reflect Kurtz’s failure to achieve his many lofty goals and fulfill his destiny, and he cannot help but utter in despair as the emptiness of his own life envelopes him. These final words could also broadly symbolize the horror of Belgian (and European) colonialism. For Marlow’s part, he interprets the exclamation as Kurtz’s response to his impending death. Each of these meanings coexist uneasily in Kurtz’s last words.