The nature of humanity has been questioned by philosophers for centuries. Among the many theories in existence the theory of Thomas Hobbes that all people are born innately evil or that of John Locke in which all people are born pure and innately warm hearted are the most cited and talked about. Linked to these ideas is the question of whether or not people are shaped and corrupted by society or if its heredity that determines a person’s morals. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad brings different theories to the reader depending on how it is interpreted.
Even though opinion on the novel’s position may change from reader to reader it cannot be denied that the character of Kurtz brings about the focus of humanity’s nature. Towards the end of the novel there is a brief period in which Marlow speaks of Kurtz with admiration and praise. “… I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness.
He had summed up – he had judged. ‘The Horror! ‘ He was a remarkable man. After all, this was the expression of some sort of belief; it had candor, it had conviction, it had a vibrating note of revolt in its whisper, it had the appalling face of a glimpsed truth – the strange commingling of desire and hate… True, he had made that last stride, he had stepped over the edge, while I had been permitted to draw back my hesitating foot. And perhaps this is the whole difference; perhaps all the
wisdom, and all the truth, and all the sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible… It was an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions… but the echo of his magnificent eloquence thrown to me from a soul as translucently pure as a cliff of crystal. ” Throughout the book the reader is bombarded with the atrocities that the “civilized” white Europeans were responsible for.
This shows the inherent nature of man – dominating over anything that is weaker and unable to protect itself. Looking through the book it would be easy to come to the conclusion that Conrad believes that man has the tendency to helplessly turn to evil behavior when allowed by his environment. Although he does focus on the horrors brought by the Europeans on a quest for money and power, he shows the lighter side through Kurtz. Kurtz is focused on in the novel as an evil cutthroat businessman who would do anything for success.
Through this excerpt he demonstrates his true character, and metaphorically the true character of human nature. Marlow speaks of Kurtz in such a passionate way that the reader is forced to change their opinion of him. He quotes Kurtz saying “The horror” which is extremely important because it shows what Kurtz learned was right and wrong. He may have went “over the edge” but he returned to reality after realizing what he had done. This conveys an important message about the world. People are not born evil; They are not born with ideas of hatred and superiority; The evil is learned and can be unlearned.
Conrad is trying to show that the beauty of human kind is that we can see our mistakes and learn from them. Kurtz learns from his errors and in the end shows remorse for his actions. What separates people from the animals is our ability to show compassion and remorse. Even though it is sometimes hidden down beneath a false exterior, it can be brought out by experiencing mistakes and the misfortunes of others. This is also another point of Conrad. He wants to show the readers that they must live their lives without regret. They must accept their mistakes and the consequences that go along with them.
In essence he is trying to teach us of the horrible realities man creates yet to still believe in the good nature of human life. Joseph Conrad was able to sum up his entire philosophical view of human life into a novel showing the atrocities man can create. He showed how man can be evil and cold-hearted but he also told us we can learn from mistakes and be forgiven. In the end the good nature of man prevails and Kurtz is thought of in a favorable light. This shows the forgiving nature of man and it gives hope for all of those who view the world pessimistically.
Courtney from Study Moose
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