In thenovella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Kurtz’s physicalillness is only a window that shows how diseasedhis mind had become over time. Kurtz’s madness and savageness madehim physically ill because he was starting to see into the depths of hisown soul and realizes that the same thing could happen to anyone, and thisrealization can change the perspective of humanity on Colonialism. His lastwords show evidence of this because he is being forced to leave Africa, whichhe sees as his own sanctuary, and there he had the highest power. Asa person approaches death, they may catch a glimpse of heaven or hell. InKurtz’s situation, he had seen hell because even though he was described as aremarkable man, his soul had become empty because it has been damagedby greed and his lack of morality.
The powerof the deep forests and the environment can really affect the mental state ofany man because of the unpredictability of nature and the people within it. Colonialismis the main reason for these effects. Kurtz had no restraint but the’primitives’ still had a sense of decency, which was another reason he had losthis sanity and become a savage. He could not handle the animalistic naturesurrounding him. Instead of sticking to his original task, he has beendistracted because of the environment around him.
The people who claimed toknow Kurtz contradicted each other since they all described him differently,from how Marlow would describe him. Marlow gives Kurtz a frame narrative fromremarkable to mad. Kurtz was the perfect embodiment of howinvestigating the heart of darkness can have a big impact on humanity. “Heartof Darkness” is not only referring to the place inside Africa but it also showsthe evil side of European Colonialism.
Insteadof becoming the light in this so-called”heart of darkness”, he did more harm than good, causing him to lose allsanity, morality, and his previously impeccable reputation. Kurtz’s passion forivory was good and bad at the same time. The amount of ivory he was gatheringwas very good. However, the way Kurtz was obtaining these goods made him actlike a madman. Kurtz’s obsession forivory 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 into 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 humanityand how they will fail to realize what his symbolic death means. The notes inthe “International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs” shows a veryclear way of Kurtz evolving into a madman.
Charles Marlow said that “It made metingle with enthusiasm” (Conrad 63) from the beginning of reading the article,but as the article comes to an end, it only had a postscriptum saying,”Exterminate all the brutes!” (Conrad 63). It represents his declining sanity. As hespent more time in Africa with the savages, the more he became mad, and themore he became mad, the closer he was to death. Kurtz’s last words were, “Thehorror! The horror!” (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 colonialism. 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 thedominant country extends control and authority over the weaker people, as wellas their territories. Thiscolonial exploitation that Kurtz tried to force to the Africans, happened tohim in reverse. Instead of him civilizing Africa, he became a savage himself.Since his original plan to colonize the natives did not work out, he formed abond with the savages causing Kurtz to be their god-like figure.
When goinginto the heart of Africa, Kurtz didn’t know what awaits him when he gets there. This unawareness affected hismental state because he didn’t feel like he belonged in Africa with thenatives. When Kurtz obtained this power, he became amoral and had no restraint.His judgment became poor and he was not as well-spoken as he was beforeentering the Congo.
The natives were the ones who held back from cannibalizingand ate hippotamus meat instead of human flesh. Kurtz however, attacked everyvillage insight in search of ivory. Marlow himself keeps saying “Restraint!What possible restraint?” (Conrad 52). Even though Marlow did not know theKurtz who went into the heart of darkness, he still had respect for hisreputation as the person who walked out of it. Kurtz’s failure to not succumbto the animalistic behaviors and beastly morals of the savages is what lead tohis madness and bodily sickness.Everything we know about Kurtz has alwaysbeen secondhand. Characters who knew him completely contradicted with his madand savage traits. His whole character is a frame narrative giving the effectthat he was a nice “remarkable man” in Europe, but once joined the Company, he becamemad and insane.
He lost all that mattered to him because he lost himself in thedeep ends of the jungle. The term ‘darkness’ is referred to by Marlow as theheart of the jungle itself. Darkness is used metaphorically and symbolicallythroughout the book, rather than specifically. It is what’s eating awayeverything that is left of Kurtz’s sanity and is the cause of his destroyedsoul. Kurtz’s character is the perfectexample of what happens when humans try to colonialize their ethics on to thenatives. 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.Kurtz’s poor mental being reflects on hisphysical sickness because Colonialism is merely a sad tragic. It has given himrealizations of how humanity views Colonialism differently and that he is therepresentative of all that is to fear about it. His madness had led him to hisdeath and eternity in hell. Kurtz underestimated the natives and he had to paythe price leaving him with no restraint, nor morality.
He had lost himself inthe process of trying to obtain the most ivory in the district.