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

Monday, March 27, 2006

The significance of Kurtz

In Josef Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness" we are presented with an ironic tale of one man's journey into the interior of Africa and the corruption he discovers there.
Our central character Marlow is an experienced seaman with a driving force of intrepidness rather than just a man seeking profit. We are told the story by one of Marlow's fellow seaman as it was told to him by Marlow as they waited on the tide in the Thames river. This is were we receive our first hint of irony in the way Marlow describes the western habit of robbing natives of different lands and cultures of their freedom and resources under the guise of enlightenment. As Marlow continues the yarn he uses vivid imagery to convey the feeling of death and corruption at the operation's head quarters in London. This foreshadowing is central to the idea of the story. When Marlow arrives in Africa he notices first the absurdity and cruelty as he watches a French ship firing cannons into the continent supposedly at the "enemies" which are the natives. These kind of incidences occur often as he describes the cruelty with which the Africans are treated. The chain-gang, the grove of death and etc. are all examples by which this message of contradiction and cruelty are conveyed to the reader. Marlow is intrigued by a man named Kurtz who resides in the interior and is referred to as the companies top collection agent of ivory. There are many mixed emotions about Kurtz, some men fear him, some are jealous of him,and yet others admire him. Yet no-one can deny his effectiveness at acquiring ivory and this leads Marlow to believe him to be a truly remarkable man. As the story continues we realize that the steamboat "rescue" of Kurtz was sabotaged and as Marlow waits on his steamer to be repaired he describes the management and their attitudes and his disdain for both. When Marlow finally reaches Kurtz the realization of the story all comes together. Kurtz represents the west or Europe and its presence in Africa. In an attempt to set an example Kurtz has become the embodiment of colonization and all the ills that come along with it. His heart has become so dark from the corruption, murder, theft, and terrible mistreatment of the natives. These are the effects of the "big squeeze" our author refers to when describing colonization and all the ills that come along with it. In the story Kurtz represents all the things that were admired by western civilization: Intrepidness, Boldness, Conviction, Eloquence, Tenacity. All of these attributes were corrupted and Kurtz became a brutal monster or a manifestation of all the ills caused by this false enlightenment which was not driven by ideals only pure greed or the heart of darkness. Kurtz represented what the colonizers had all become, just glorified plunderers and pirates. These were the effects on a mans soul when it is driven by such a contradiction as this false enlightenment.


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