Mr. Kurtz and His Enlightenment
Mr. Kurtz is the protagonist of the novel “Heart of Darkness.” He arrives in Africa full of vim and excitement, with the intention of exposing introducing Africans to the civilized manners of life. As his mother was half-English and his father was half-French, he represents all of Europe. Marlow emphasises this facet of his personality, stating that “all Europe contributed to the making of Mr. Kurtz.”
The readers are informed about Mr. Kurtz’s illness at the start of the work, as he is nearing the end of his life. Marlow is appointed captain of a steamboat that will travel up the Congo River in search of Mr. Kurtz, a missing ivory merchant who has been absent for nine months, and bring him back to Brussels.
Marlow meets a variety of European folks on his voyage and speaks with them about Mr. Kurtz. He got a better idea of this individual who was stranded in the wilderness of Africa before his real contact with Kurtz.
On the outer station Marlow comes across the chief accountant of the company who tells him that Kurt is a first class agent. He is such a remarkable person that he “sends in as much ivory as all the others put together”.
Marlow is curious to meet Kurtz who is equipped with moral ideas of some sort. Initially Kurtz has in his mind some great ideas like “each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing.”
Before going into further detail about Kurtz, it is pertinent to know about the “concept of wilderness”. Wilderness gives a person an opportunity to prove his real self. In a social structure of life people do not commit atrocities and try not to indulge in bad activities because there they are living under the social pressures. Social pressures can be in different forms like family, police, liking and disliking of people etc. So a person living in a civilized society may have dead desire to commit a robbery, just take an example, but he never satisfies his desire because he has in his mind that the society will not approve his action, he will be sent behind the bars and his action will bring degradation upon his family name. For these reasons a person may not act wrongly.
In order to know a man’s true self we have to put him in a situation where there are no checks of any type. This particular situation is called “wilderness”. Now, if a person refrains from acting immoral things it means he has got inner strength and real substance that stop him from satisfying ill-desires.
Mr. Kurtz has been put into contact with wilderness in Africa where he is free to do anything with no fear of any type of consequences. He comes there with moral ideas but as soon as he enjoys immense powers, he forgets everything except materializing his lusts and immoral desires. In fulfilling his desires he goes to such an extreme where humanity does not seem to him of any worth; “there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased”.
It is either the lack of substance or the boundless appetite for more ivory that have got the better of Mr. Kurtz. The most famous line of the novel “exterminate all the brutes” has been written by no other than Mr. Kurtz. The person, who writes seventy pages on how to civilize the Africans, drops a line, “exterminate all the brutes”, in the post script which marks transformation of his character. This line draws a dividing line between the previous self of Kurtz, having burning noble ideas, and Kurtz who has become blind in his lust for ivory.
With descending into wilderness Kurtz becomes inferior to cannibals, who were hired to push the steamer off the sandbags. We see that the cannibals, in a state of extreme hunger, do not try to eat humans even having opportunities to do so. Their inner strength comes into the way of satisfying their desire. Marlow accounts this as:
“I saw that something restraining——-had come into play there”
“It takes a man all his inborn strength to fight hunger properly. It’s really easier to face bereavement, dishonour, and the perdition of one’s soul-than this kind of prolonged hunger”.
In the hierarchy of human beings, cannibals are designated the lowest position. Now comparing Kurtz with cannibals helps us make a judgment about Kurtz that in the wilderness he has become the worst of the lowest human beings.
To explain this position of Kurtz, we need to bring forth those adjectives that Marlow has used to refer to Mr. Kurtz. “Voice”, “Hollow”, “Apparition” and “Phantom” are some denotations used for Mr. Kurtz because of his degrading himself from the level of humanity to the savagery. Marlow thinks of Kurtz to be “very little more than a voice” because in the quest of ivory the latter has forgotten the essences of humanity.
While enjoying power he starts thinking of every thing as his possessions without discriminating between things and humans. He himself says, “My Ivory”, My Station”, “My River” and “My Intended”. Not only he committed cruelties but also became a demigod turning the natives into his worshippers by applying power and force.
The Harlequin, a Russian character, is devoted to Mr. Kurtz and thinks that the latter has enlarged his mind and enabled him to see things. His devotion goes to such as extent that he imperfectly justifies his actions and equates him with Jupiter. But it is ironic to know that his thunder and lightning are in fact his rifles and cartridges that he freely used while collecting ivory.
Until now we have seen Kurtz deeply plunged into savagery and his recovery to the ways of humanity seems to be very difficult. He himself does not want to be brought back to Europe; therefore he plans an attack over the steamboat led by Marlow. Even amidst the journey back to Europe, he tries to crawl to a bowl part arranged by Africans. At this moment he expresses his utmost desire that “he will come back soon and carry on his ideas”.
However, the final moments of Kurtz’s life are very important. While thinking of his present condition, he looks behind at his life and utters memorable words, “The Horror, The Horror”. Soon after concluding his life, his takes his final breath. This is his realization and final enlightenment that makes him distinguished among all the other European characters in the novel. No matter how cruel he was in his life, at least he achieved enlightenment at the end and taught others a lesson that a life full of crimes is no more than a horror.
Marlow credits him upon this realization and declares him superior to all the other characters who consider ivory as a sole objective of their lives. They are so shallow that they can’t think of such great philosophy. Thus it can be concluded that a person, whom Marlow severely criticized, achieved permanence and even impressed him as well.