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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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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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