Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is a novel about a man’s ability to move into madness as it is with its ability to break away from it and succeed over the dark, compelling in the urge that threaten to take over his heart and mind. This struggle with madness is evident in Kurtz. He is the one of more interest, his madness and its effects dominated the narrative from the beginning. The narrative is quick to establish that Kurtz has fully fell into the “farthest” state of madness, but is less clear as to why. Kurtz madness would be agreed upon many due to his greed and arrogance; his ability to collect massive amounts of ivory has provided him a god like entity in not only the natives within the Congo but the British as well. There is more to Kurtz madness than monetary lust.
When analyzing Kurtz’s madness, it’s important to examine the aspects of him and his normalcy. Looking at instances of praise for Kurtz, the extent of his madness becomes visible. Knowing once he was the reader, the reader can notice the extent to which the madness has developed. The novel is narrated from Marlow’s point of view, therefore little is known about Kurtz’s life before he journeyed into the Congo, resulting in readers learning through commentary of others who know Kurtz or know of him. In result of that readers are unaware whether he was “mad” before entering the jungle. He is completely engulfed in the darkness and went completely mad. However comments about Kurtz from colleagues give no indication of madness prior to his life in Congo. In the beginning of the novel it contains great deal of praises from these people, the majority of which portray him as smart and and a capable individual. He is described as a prodigy and a genius while some people make mention of his potential for greatness within the Company. The accountant states that“‘[Kurtz] will go far, very far’” (Conrad 16). You can tell from these opinions it’s clear that Kurtz made a positive impression upon the other men within the Company. Horror the horror!” (Conrad 154). Kurtz realizes he became enlightened through his journey simply because he has found a purpose in the darkness. His madness gave him purpose.
On the other hand, it is the pursuit of ivory that Kurtz has gone mad. As a result of his madness, he becomes a god like being to the Natives. Their respect for him becomes apparent when Marlow asks the Russian traders about Kurtz relationship with the Natives. The Russians said, “‘They adored him … What can you expect?’ … ‘He came to them with thunder and lightning, you know–’” (Conrad 51). The Russians adoration of Kurtz shows that he has been deemed a god-like figure. The description of him “thunder and lightning,” his guns and ammunition shows why he is viewed mighty To the natives, he appears to be a god wielding the forces of nature. As a result, he becomes a wrathful, fear-inducing creature. While the Russian tells Marlow that the natives “adore” him, it seems as if they live in fear of him. This idea is confirmed by the Russian’s latter declaration that Kurtz could be “very terrible” . In this light, Kurtz’s brilliance, while good for the Company, is detrimental to the natives. He becomes a manipulative and cruel ruler who uses the uncivilized environment to his advantage.
Kurtz eccentric behavior can be judged reasonable by no one except for those who expect for those who “leapt off the edge into darkness.” This darkness is an obsession left unexplored in humanity in “civilized” humanity, however Kurtz explores it thoroughly. After experiencing the power of killing whoever he chose, sleeping with anyone he desired, and being worshipped by the Indigenous populous, he couldn’t return to his previous “sane” state of mind. He has moved into another realm of living: his minds realm, outside the rest of the world, and that’s what madness is. His madness can be considered reasonable when compared to the success of Hun Empire under the rule of Atilla, who used similar methods to subdue resistance. He is completely engulfed in the darkness and went completely mad.
It is clear that madness lurks somewhere within most men, regardless of social standing and background. However it only is clear if given the appropriate opportunity and means for development. Kurtz madness has developed over a period of time within the wild and environment of the Congo. His madness manifests in a god-like persona and leads him to his death. His violent nature, evidenced in the decapitated heads, leaves no hope of recovery.
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