Analysis of the extract “The horror” from “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad.
a. Kurtz’s mind was haunted by shadowy images of wealth and fame and by the thoughts of his woman, his station, his career and ideas. (ll.4-7)
b. Kurtz sometimes behaved like a child. (ll.13-15)
c. The landscape was characterised by long reaches, monotonous bends of the river and secular threes witch had witnessed the dirty fragments of colonization. (ll.20-22)
d. The boat broke down, Marlow had to stop to repair it and this caused a delay that affected Kurtz’s confident. (ll.25-6)
e. Kurtz gave Marlow a packet of papers and a photograph tied together with a shoe-string because he feared that the manager would search his boxes. (ll.27-28)
f. Marlow could not devote his time to Kurtz because he was busy fixing the boat. (ll.37-38)
g. Kurtz’s face showed a feeling of gloomy pride, ruthless power, craven terror, hopeless despair. (ll.50-51)
h. The Manager leaned back, serene, with a smile of meanness. (ll.57-58)
i. The Manager’s boy announced Kurtz’s death in a tone of strong contempt. (ll.60-61)
j. Hearing about Kurtz’s death, the pilgrims rushed out to see. Marlow, instead, remained in the cabin and went on with his dinner. (ll.62-63)
k. Marlow thought that Kurtz was a remarkable person because he had something to say, he had seen the heart of darkness and he had expressed his judgment through his cry of terror: “the horror!”. (ll.85-88)
Structure and style.
2. Conrad uses a first person narration and multiple points of view: Kurtz’s death is viewed through the points of view of Marlow, the manager, the boy and the pilgrims.
The relationship between the writer and the reader is quite impersonal and the reader is left free to decide for his own interpretation. However, sometimes (ll.64-70-73-75), the writer seems to address directly the reader in a sort of hypothetical dialogue.
Conrad uses and amazing wealth of adjectives and complex, structures.
His style isn’t straightforward but complex. In this novel he deals with the theme of violence and mystery.
There are shifts, backwards and forwards in Marlow’s narrative. (ll.29-34)
3. in the text there are positive and negative aspects of Kurtz’s personality suggested for example, among the positive aspects we can notice that Kurtz in line 2 is said to be gifted with “magnificent eloquence”, and elevated sentiments in line 7. We are told in lines 14-15 that Kurtz intended to accomplish great things, that he had (ll.70) right motives. He’s described as a remarkable man in line 65 and he had something to say. (ll.84)
On the other hand, among the negative aspects, his art in line2 is a place of barren darkness, his brain is weary (ll.3). He’s sad to be a hollow sham (ll.9) and a soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of fame, success and power. (ll.11-12) Impenetrable darkness was inside him. (ll.35)
4. Marlow is fascinated by Kurtz (ll.48) but he also sees him as a man surrounded by darkness. Being busy keeps Marlow in contact with reality and prevents him from devoting too much time to Kurtz. (ll.35-42) His job helps Marlow to keep his mental sanity and to avoid the risk of loosing himself into the mysterious ad fascinating dark continent. Marlow struggles into the heart of darkness.
5. Conrad was interested in representing man’s inner personality: the unconscious life of his characters is explored so that we can say that Marlow’s journey can be read both as a geographical journey and a journey into the self.
Through the character of Kurtz Conrad can deal with the theme of the coexistence of good and evil in human personality.
During the journey Marlow struggles to maintain his sense of morality and self-control as power conspiracies rage all around him and the mysterious figure of Kurtz arouses his curiosity. Marlow is plunged into a world where no absolute goodness exists and where it becomes difficult to distinguish between good and evil. Conrad illustrates this moral ambiguity with light and darkness imagery that often blends together.
Kurtz is a mysterious figure and one of the agents of the company which deals with ivory trade. He becomes a sort of idol for the natives and dies whispering the ambiguous words: “The horror! The horror!”
6. Kurtz last words can be interpreted as:
• the horror and darkness of Africa in opposition to the white European civilization;
• Kurtz’s corruption and the ‘unspeakable rites’ among the natives he took part in;
• The unexplored depths of the self; Man’s unconscious as the area where repressed desires and primitive drives are stored;
• The violence, exploitation, indifference and brutalities that the colonizers committed in Africa; the horror of imperialism;
7. In lines 55-68 the words referring to light are: candle, the lamp, the light; the words referring to darkness are: beastly dark, muddy hole.
The opposition is between the inside of the cabin which is lit by the light of the lamp and where Marlow feels safe, and the disturbing darkness which reigns outside and that will characterise the ‘muddy hole’ of his grave.
8. In lines 70-88 Marlow gives his definition of what life is. He says that life is ‘droll’, a ‘riddle’ (=enigma) that escapes any logic. Heart of Darkness can be interpreted as Marlow’s mythical journey in search of the self. The message of the novel lies in the impossibility of penetrating the surface of reality in a meaningful way.
9. Conrad’s work is usually regarded as a bridge between the great tradition of the novel and the Modernist innovations.
The passage presents some innovative elements:
• The moving of the story backwards and forwards along the timeline
• The awareness that the reality around us is necessarily uncertain and complex, with lights and shades;
• Conrad is interested in the primitive as we can see in the choice to set the story in Africa, among the savages;
• The exploration of the unconscious and the journey into the darkness of the self;