LitLink

This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Darkness and the Light

Light and Darkness both have their own tropes. One symbolizes enlightenment, hope, and salvation while the other encapsulates mystery, despair, and secrecy. The character of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness embodies both of these elements as he is met with the fierce trials of the Congo.
Marlow describes him as “the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness”. This passage describes Kurtz’s two-sided personality. He is innately good but easily tempted into the corruption of profit. He started out representing the idea of charity and colonization, of spreading the light of Europe, but became enveloped by the darkness of the Congo. His residence at the inner station in the heart of the mission made it easier for him to slip into the Belgian scandal. He became obsessed with the acquisition of ivory and used his good attributes to take advantage of the neighboring troops and incorporated them into the scandal as well.
Marlow reinforces this idea by saying “the thing was to know what he belonged to, how many powers of darkness claimed him for their own”. Kurtz, after being stranded by the rest of the Company, has lost his light in the encapsulating darkness of the inner jungle. To survive, he begins raiding native villages for their ivory, even threatening his only companion, the Russian, if he didn’t hand over his ivory to him. Instead of coming to Africa and spreading the light of reason, he has been taken captive by its darkness. This is representative of the “idea” that Marlow was talking about, the idea of civilizing savage peoples. The idea is lost in the impenetrable darkness of the Congo and the corruption that it represents.
However, on his death bed, Kurtz shows his illuminating personality once more by dissenting against the goings on of the Europeans in Africa. In his babbling, he frequently speaks out about the horror and the darkness of the conquest. He leaves his papers in the protection of Marlow because it was “his duty” to reveal the scandal. He still believes in the idea once he meets with Marlow, who says that “he in a sense came back to himself” meaning that once away from the darkness and despair of the jungle, he regains his reason.
Kurtz’s character is split down the middle between his ideals and his temptations. On one hand, he is encouraging the colonization and civilizing of these savage people, but on the other hand he turns into their king, using their barbarism to achieve his own success. Part of him is the embodiment of the “idea” and the rest is the embodiment of the darkness he had initially came to enlighten.

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