Marlow could not help but to be fascinated by the image of and the thought of eventually encountering in person the figure of Kurtz. Soon into his journey into the enormous forbidding jungles of Africa in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness , Marlow begins hearing mentions of this...
Marlow could not help but to be fascinated by the image of and the thought of eventually encountering in person the figure of Kurtz. Soon into his journey into the enormous forbidding jungles of Africa in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow begins hearing mentions of this mysterious figure, some references open and approving, others discrete and conspiratorial. Kurtz is spoken of as an up-and-coming figure in the Company, a man utterly devoted to his responsibilities and certain to move up in the corporate ranks. Before embarking into the jungle, Marlow relates a conversation with an accountant, an important figure in the profitable and rapacious ivory trade that lies at the center of Conrad’s narrative. The accountant explains that Mr. Kurtz is “a first-class agent” and “a very remarkable person.” Kurtz, the accountant notes, is the Company’s most productive agent, operating deep inside the continent’s interior under brutal conditions in the interest of accumulating for shipment home “as much ivory as all the others put together.”
The accountant’s references to Kurtz are not in-and-of themselves sufficient to motivate Marlow to seek out the agent at the risk of his own life. Even the suggestion that Kurtz will certainly rise in the corporate hierarchy is not enough to summon within Marlow an obsession with finding Kurtz. As Marlow’s journey progresses, however, the prospect of encountering Kurtz grows increasingly intriguing. The references to and discussions of Kurtz feed Marlow’s determination to meet the mysterious agent. A discussion of Kurtz with a manager at a way-station makes Marlow view Kurtz as a ubiquitous figure, prompting Marlow to think to himself “hang Kurtz.” Increasing suggestions that something bad has or is happening, however, begins to light a fire in Marlow regarding Kurtz that stokes more interest. Not only are the repeated references to Kurtz increasingly intriguing, but the conditions under which indigenous people are forced to labor on behalf of the Company and the natural harshness of the jungle environment in which they work and are physically abused builds as the boat nears Kurtz’s camp.
Marlow is fascinated by Kurtz by journey’s end because he comes to view the agent as a metaphor for all the ugliness he has witnessed. Kurtz’s dying words, “the horror, the horror,” encapsulate the surrealistic environment in which he, Kurtz, has been functioning. The inhumanity of the Company’s enterprise and his own enormous success at fueling that enterprise have taken a serious toll on Kurtz’s psyche, and Marlow has become the inheritor of Kurtz’s legacy. The journey to Kurtz’s camp deep in the Congo is not only physical, but mental, and Marlow’s growing determination to meet Kurtz and to accept the roll of executor of Kurtz’s memories is only complete with the legendary ivory agent’s death.