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Why does Marlow lie to The Intended at the end of Heart of Darkness?

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kcook21 | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 18, 2010 at 4:45 AM via web

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Why does Marlow lie to The Intended at the end of Heart of Darkness?

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epollock | Valedictorian

Posted November 18, 2010 at 8:55 AM (Answer #1)

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Toward the end of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", Kurtz lies dying on the steamboat as Marlow attempts to bring him back to civilization. Kurtz’s final words are “The horror!The horror!”When Marlow returns to England, he meets various acquaintances of Kurtz, many of whom glorify the deceased adventurer’s character and what he might have aspired to had he lived. Marlow also meets Kurtz’s fiancée, who believes in Kurtz’s nobility and is devoted to the mythology of Kurtz as the great Christian do-gooder who has gone into the heart of darkness to transform a savage civilization. She is committed to the idea that Kurtz’s memory must be preserved because of his remarkable nobility.D. The Kurtz she imagines does not exist at all. The real man is virtually the opposite, taking a native mistress, and killing others at will. He is a man who (paraphrasing Marlow) had kicked himself loose from the Earth, a man who became a god in the land, an embodiment of appetite and savage un-restraint. When Marlow encounters Kurtz’s fiancée, he knows all these terrible things about Kurtz. He especially remembers Kurtz’s last words. Marlow is horrified by the fiancée’s deluded notions, but she coerces Marlow into reassuring her of Kurtz’s nobility. Such coercion is a recurring drama in Conrad, and it shows his insight into the idea that conversation itself is political and coercive, not necessarily a mutual experience. The fiancée asks Marlow Kurtz’s final words. Marlow yearns to answer truthfully. His whole narration has been about truth and the difficulty of reaching it. But as much as Marlow hates lies (as he tells readers earlier), he tells the fiancée what she wants to hear—that Kurtz’s last words were her name. In an ironic twist, however, the fiancée believes wholeheartedly in Kurtz’s nobility and thus completely believes and embraces the rationale for Western imperialism. The ending implies, in a wonderful and disturbing way, that Marlow’slie speaks a kind of truth. No wonder the fiancée is confined, in the story, to a sepulcher and is, for the reader, a kind of horror herself.

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 25, 2012 at 8:45 PM (Answer #2)

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At the end of the story, Marlow has been through a literal hell on Earth, and has witnessed the very worst of humanity as brutally shown by Kurtz. Marlow is disillusioned and tired; he wants nothing more than to forget the entire journey, but he knows that all of it, especially Kurtz's final words -- "The horror! The horror!" -- will stay with him forever. On meeting Kurtz's Intended, a nice young woman with no idea of Kurtz's terrible deeds, Marlow is torn between the desire to be truthful -- he has seen too many lies recently -- and the need to allow her a last piece of Kurtz to remember.

"'His last word -- to live with,' she murmured. 'Don't you understand I loved him -- I loved him -- I loved him!'

"I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.

"'The last word he pronounced was -- your name.'"
(Conrad, Heart of Darkness, gutenberg.org)

It is possible that Marlow sees The Intended as the last good part of Kurtz, the last thing that he affected in a positive way, and he can't bear to destroy her with the truth about Kurtz. To spare her the terrible burden that he has been forced into, Marlow lies; his small lie gives her piece, and so the horrors that Kurtz created ended with some small good deed. Now The Intended can go on with her life, feeling that a great man loved her passionately, and she will never need to know what really happened.


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chrisyhsun | Student, College Freshman | Salutatorian

Posted July 4, 2014 at 12:36 AM (Answer #3)

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Marlow has two possible paths here - to answer truthfully or to lie to The Intended. The first option would be in line with what he learned from his experience with Kurtz. It is clear that Marlow respects Kurtz's truthfulness both in his words and in his actions, even if he is also slightly repelled by the same aspects of the man. However, Marlow is no longer with Kurtz in the middle of the Congo. He is back in Europe, surrounded by individuals who enjoy kind outward appearances, even at the expense of the reality. As such, perhaps Marlow is motivated to fit into his surroundings and therefore chooses to lie to The Intended to ease her heart, just as any other European would do.

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