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Why does Marlow lie to Kurtz's "intended" in Heart of Darkness?

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cougars123 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 5, 2011 at 12:55 PM via web

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Why does Marlow lie to Kurtz's "intended" in 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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jnbowdoin | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted December 5, 2011 at 4:43 PM (Answer #1)

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There is no easy answer to this, but the general assumption is that Marlow wishes to hide Kurt's real character from her, his "heart of darkness" as it were, and so lies. He supplants Kurtz's last words "The horror! The horrow! with the lie that he last spoke her name, something she instantly deems as appropriate and predicted. The political aura revolving around this tale mirrors that of the British Raj, or invasion of India, in which soldier's stories, upon returning, were often changed in light of what they had done and not the natives themselves. Thus, when Marlow returns, he chooses to bury the truth of Kurtz's madness in the Congo and return with a lie which meets certain societal ideals of the Victorian age. By ending in this manner, Conrad is bridging the gap between the closing Victorian era and Modernism, two modes of thinking which straddle the fence between idealism and realism which are symbolically drawn from the lie he utters and the dramatic irony with which the reader views the truth.   

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted June 18, 2013 at 8:41 PM (Answer #2)

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We have to engage in some conjecture to answer this question. As such, several possible answers present themselves.

There may be a sense that the darkness Marlow found in Kurtz somehow belongs in the Congo and should remain there. To tell Kurtz fiance about his actual end would be to release this darkness into the wider world. 

We might also wonder if Marlow saw a purposeful/intentional and intact innocence in the fiance and did not want to destroy that innocence. 

Rather than explain the truth of Kurtz's life in Africa, Marlow decides not to disillusion her. He returns some of Kurtz's things to her—some letters and a pamphlet he had written—and tells her that Kurtz's last word was her name. (eNotes) 

Another possibility is that Marlow may feel that explaining Kurtz dissolution and his turn to evil is too much to explain. Marlow had to go all the way up the Congo River to discover what he does about Kurtz. The fiance has not made the same journey and so may not be prepared to understand the things that Marlow has seen. 

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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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