n the novella Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Kurtz’s physical illness is only a window that shows how diseased his mind had become over time. Kurtz’s madness and savageness made him physically ill because he was starting to see into the depths of his own soul and realizes that the same thing could happen to anyone. Kurtz’s realization changed the perspective of humanity.As a person approaches a glimpse of heaven or hell.
In Kurtz’s situation, he saw hell because even though he was a good man, his soul becomes empty because it has been damaged by greed and his lack of morality. His last words show evidence of this because he is being forced to leave Africa, which he sees as his own sanctuary, and there he had the highest power. The power of the deep forests and the environment can really affect the mental state of anyone because of the unpredictability of nature and the people within it. Colonialism is 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 lost his sanity and become a savage. He could not handle the animalistic nature surrounding him. Instead of sticking to his original task, he has been distracted because of the environment around him. Kurtz was the perfect embodiment of how investigating the heart of darkness can have a big impact on humanity.
“Heart of Darkness” is not only referring to the place inside Africa but it also shows the evil side of European Colonialism. Instead of becoming the light in this so-called “heart of darkness”, he did more harm than good, causing him to lose all sanity, morality, and his previously impeccable reputation. Kurtz’s passion for ivory was good and bad at the same time. The amount of ivory he was gathering was very good. However, the way Kurtz was obtaining these goods made him act like a madman.
Kurtz’s obsession for ivory was one of the reasons he’s lost all that is good in his life. His methods were putting the Company at risk and his own reputation was sinking down, but he does not care because he’s become mad. Kurtz went from being “the chief of the inner station” (Conrad 29) to an ill man who ruled the natives. He went to Africa in hopes of civilizing the natives but was immediately blinded by the power and he then continued to exploit the natives. This kind of exploitation is what made Kurtz become a savage himself. His mental insanity has made him bodily sick because of a ‘seeing’ he has made from his own soul. Africa itself is full of mental detonation and unknown diseases back in the day.
It is interpreted that Kurtz saw the corruption and depravity of humanity. The notes in the “International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs” shows a very clear way of Kurtz evolving into a madman. Charles Marlow said that “It made me tingle with enthusiasm” (Conrad 63) from the beginning of reading the article, but as the article comes to an end, the handwriting was written with “an unsteady hand” (Conrad 63). The postscriptum is the part of the pamphlet that took Marlow a second to digest, all it said was “Exterminate all the brutes!” (Conrad 63) written harshly. It represents his declining sanity. As he spent more time in Africa with the savages, the more he became mad, and the more he became mad, the closer he was to death. Kurtz’s last words were, “The horror! The horror!” (Conrad 90). This is a cry pain and surrender for Kurtz.
Marlow described Kurtz’s last words as, “the expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair” (Conrad 90) leaving room for audience interpretation. Even though Kurtz was expecting death from his illness, his life still flashed before his eyes. He saw, “some image, at some vision” (Conrad 90) and this is heaven or hell. Kurtz had been described as a remarkable man throughout the novel by people in Europe who knew him before his voyages.
However, by the end of the book, his soul was empty because he was too greedy and manipulative. His madness also represents amorality and his overall character represents all that is bad in imperialism. The glimpse of hell made him scream his last words knowing that he could potentially stay down there forever, and this would make him suffer in life and death. Colonialism is the exploitation of resources and ethics to one country by another and the dominant country extends control and authority over the weaker people, as well as their territories. This colonial exploitation that Kurtz tried to force to the Africans, happened to him in reverse. Instead of him civilizing Africa, he became a savage. Since his original plan to colonize the natives did not work out, he formed a bond with the savages causing Kurtz to be their god-like figure. When going into the heart of Africa, Kurtz didn’t know what awaits him when he gets there.
This unawareness affected his mental state because he didn’t feel like he belonged in Africa with the natives. When Kurtz obtained this power, he became amoral and had no restraint. The natives were the ones who held back from cannibalizing and ate hippotamus meat instead of human flesh.
Kurtz however, attacked every village in sight. He even decorated huts with heads on stakes as fences. Marlow himself keeps saying “Restraint! What possible restraint?” (Conrad 52).
The term ‘darkness’ is referred to by Marlow as the heart of the jungle itself. Darkness is used metaphorically and symbolically throughout the book, rather than specifically. It is what’s eating away everything that is left of Kurtz’s sanity and is the cause of his destroyed soul.
Kurtz’s character is the perfect example of what happens when humans try to Colonialize their ethics on to the natives. Instead of being light to the people and the place itself, the distraction given to him by greed and amorality made him do more harm than good. The meaning of ivory has also been changed.
Over time, Kurtz didn’t see it as a precious resource anymore, but instead, he saw it as an excuse to attack villages and use his superiority. Even though collecting loads ivory gave a good name to the people back in Europe, his madness did not make him see how this is doing harm to his reputation.