what was the significance of Kurtz's dying words, "The horror! The horror!"?what was the significance of Kurtz's dying words, "The horror! The horror!"?

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ambiguity of Kurtz's last words are meant to make readers reach their own conclusions about Kurtz's state of mind in his final lucid moment; we know this because Marlow has his own set of questions about what Kurtz is thinking at the end. Marlow looks at Kurtz and sees "somber pride," "ruthless power," "craven terror," as well as "intense and hopeless despair." If Marlow reads Kurtz's expressions correctly, the words "the horror, the horror" could be a recognition of what evil he has done in amassing his cache of ivory and consolidating his power over the natives; it could be awe and satisfaction at his own power, fear of the commencement of eternal punishment, or profound shame. Suffice to say that Kurtz does not die in a state of equanimity. Marlow believes that Kurtz sees a "vision" or "image" in his last moments and that it in some way provokes him.  

Later, as Marlow waits to speak with Kurtz's "intended," he recalls Kurtz's last words and imagines him "embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe." It seems clear that Marlow believes that Kurtz is a failed Satanic figure, capable of great evil, but in the end, vanquished by his own overreaching nature. 

amymc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are so many interpretations of this quotation!  Here are a few that I find most plausible.

By the end of his long stay at the inner station, Kurtz has realized that his treatment of the natives, his rebel attitude and actions toward the company and his own self-destruction are truly horrible and antithetical to the person he was before he entered the "heart of darkness."  Therefore, his outburst reveals this awarenes of what he has become.

Another interpretation is just about the opposite.  Being forced to leave his sanctuary, where he is treated like a god, and to return to a life that he no longer respects is overwhelming to Kurtz.  His final words are a reaction to this reality that he in no way wants.

Finally, many interpret Kurtz words as a reaction to a vision he has while he is near death.  He has perhaps caught a glimpse of hell and is realizing for the first time where he will spend eternity.

Of course other interpretations exist.  The best may be a combination of several ideas!

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here is another possible interpretation. But again, it's important to bear in mind that there's very little in the way of academic consensus on this point, so it's a good idea to research as many opinions as you can.

As often happens when someone is close to death, Kurtz's whole life starts to flash before his eyes. He's always considered himself to be a good man, yet now his soul has been totally brutalized and corrupted by his experiences in Africa. But in his final words, he isn't simply articulating the horrors of what he's seen and done; he's alluding to the fundamental horror at the heart of all human existence. He's realized too late that, beneath the thin, tenuous veneer of civilization, we're all pretty much the same. In turning himself into a god, Kurtz has rejected God, arrogating to himself the power of life and death over others. Finally, he comes to realize the full horror of what this power entails, and stares into the dark, existential abyss that awaits us all.

e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These words are potently enigmatic. I like the ideas offered above and I'd offer another interpretation. The horror that Kurtz sees in his vision/realization is one of his failure (to truly move beyond humanity, to become more than human; a god or something not far short of that) and the horror is also a realization of the chaos that exists in "the beyond", a space where gods might dwell and live but which men cannot enter. 

Kurtz' goal was one of supremecy, extreme supremecy. He fails to become something more than he was at the beginning. He is bound to human morality and, like the first interpretation offered above, he finds in the end that he must judge himself according to the laws of society as he has failed to forge his own set of laws in the jungle. 

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Heart of Darkness

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