Discuss Kurtz' last words in Heart of Darkness. What is their significance? How does Marlow interpret them?
Kurtz’s last words, “The horror! The horror!” have been widely debated by critics and could have multiple meanings. On the surface, it seems that he is referring to the horrors he has witnessed during his time working in the Congo. He is horrified with imperialism and the exploitation of African people and resources. It could also be that he is horrified with himself and what he has become. From the beginning of the novel, Marlow hints at the psychological changes that take place in a person when they travel into the “heart of darkness,” and it seems Kurtz may be horrified at the changes in his mind and the atrocities that has made him capable of. We can gather that Kurtz has been brought to a certain level of insanity from his experience in the Congo, and this could also be what he is referring to with his last words.
Marlow seems to see Kurtz’s last words as a dying man’s last moment of complete clarity before passing. Because Kurtz was able to have such poignant and revelatory last words, Marlow sees him as a “remarkable man.” Marlow is so impressed that Kurtz, on the edge of death, is able to say words that he believes encompasses some kind of great truth. Marlow says:
He had summed up-- he had judged. ‘The horror!’ He was a remarkable man. After all, this was the expression of some sort of belief; it had candor, it had conviction, it had a vibrating note of revolt in its whisper, it had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth-- the strange commingling of desire and hate.
Marlow finds Kurtz so remarkable because even in his last moments he is able to speak truthfully and with conviction- because his beliefs do not falter even in the weakest moment. It is not clear from this whether Marlow believes “the horror” refers to the exploitative acts of imperialism or whether it is Kurtz’s own soul, but it is clear that Marlow admires Kurtz because of them.
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