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The Power of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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The Power of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness


Power has been defined as the psychological relations over another to get them to do what you want them to do.  We are exposed to forms of power from the time of birth.  Our parents exercise power over us to behave in a way they deem appropriate. In school, teachers use their power to help us learn.  When we enter the work world the power of our boss motivates us to perform and desire to move up the corporate ladder so that we too can intimidate someone with power one day.  In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of DarknessKurtz had a power over the jungle and its people that was inexplicable.

Kurtz is one of many men sent into the jungle to rape the land and its people of its natural resources.  Many men have journeyed into the jungle also refereed as the heart of darkness never to return.  Kurtz goes into the jungle and becomes obsessed with the people and the land.   Though Kurtz has an obsession with ivory this is not the sole reason for him to overstay his welcome in the jungle.

Power this is what kept Kurtz in the jungle for such a long period of time.  Determined not to become another causality he becomes allies with the natives through fear.  Kurtz is a brilliant man who did not have to adapt to his environment but had it adapt to him.  On top of a hill his hut is surrounded by the heads of men who have betrayed in him some sort, this serves as a reminder to anyone who contemplates going against his wish.

When Marlow finally reaches Kurtz he is in declining health.  This same jungle which he loved, embraced and consumed with every ounce of his flesh had also taken its toll on him.  Marlow finally meets the man whose name has haunted him on his river journey.  Could this frail human be the ever so powerful Kurtz?  The man who has journeyed into uncharted territories and has come back with scores of ivory and the respect of the native tribe.  Yes, this was the very man and though he is weak and on his way to death his power still exudes from him.

This is where the definition of power comes in to play the “psychological relation” see even though his body was decomposing his mind was still sharp.

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  Kurtz’s voice still boomed when he spoke, he still demanded the respect he thought he deserved.  Since Kurtz had terrorized the natives into fearing and respecting him even on his last legs he was still powerful.  The psychological game he played  with the natives was brilliant, he had them attack boats that carried people who had come to help him.  There was nothing the natives would not do for him.

Kurtz does not want to return to civilization but he does not use his power to have Marlow and his crew killed either.  Kurtz  leaves on the steamboat leaving behind the people who have cared and worshipped him to survive on their own.  He loves the feeling of the natives watching from the shores mourning his departure.  He asks Marlow not the blow the whistle to frighten the natives so that he can bask in his last hour of power.

What made Kurtz so powerful?  Why was he able to manipulate the natives into his puppets?   Kurtz was able to do this because he preyed on the insecurities of a what was believed a less intelligent people.  Rather than be the “white man” who was an enemy he portrayed himself as a friend.  This ability to play psychological games on others was a gift for Kurtz and what helped bring him into power.  This same ability is what politicians posses today and inflict upon us in order for us to vote them into power.  Guess we are no more intelligent than the natives.



Heart of Darkness Kurtz

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oseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a novel about European imperialism and its far-reaching aims, methods, and effects. The author, Conrad, presents his own personal opinions through his central character, Marlow, who learns a great deal about imperialism while on a journey to the African Congo, and through his search for the infamous Kurtz throughout the novel. Although Heart of Darkness seems to be an anti-imperialistic work, this is not entirely true. Rather, Conrad criticizes the exaggerated romantic notion of imperialism.

The novel begins with a discussion between Marlow and those accompanying him on the boat, concerning the idealistic imperialism of conquerors, especially that of the English, who were “bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. ” Marlow himself had “tingled with enthusiasm” at the thought of imperialism, as his friends do during their collective memories of the past, but this is all before his experience in the Congo, and his encounters with both the notion and the actually being of Kurtz, when he truly uncovers the crudeness of the Belgians and their imperialistic character.

Conrad introduces and develops Kurtz as a character whose shadowy nature was spurred on by something dark lurking in Africa – two forces that ultimately pull Kurtz from his ‘civilized’ prior life, and lure him in turn from restraint. Then again, “you can’t judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man” reminds the Russian sailor, and indeed Kurtz is a larger-than-life superhero throughout much of Joseph Conrad’s story. The darkness in Kurtz’s heart is so strongly suggested that the reader believes him to represent the idea of imperialism, rather than simply the common imperialist.

Taking Kurtz as the picture of the imperialist idea in its prime, the reader is left to see that the hearts of imperialism and Africa both contain corresponding, negative darkness. The darkness Kurtz holds within himself mirrors the darkness of the ‘civilizing’ mission itself. It is unconsciously revealed in the brick maker’s comment on Kurtz: “He is an emissary of pity, and science, and progress, and the devil knows what else. ” Although somewhat questionable, this statement hints that there is more truth in the darkness within the heart of Kurtz, and in turn in that of imperialism, then can be seen immediately on the surface.

Certainly Kurtz set out aiming to bring some good values to the Congo, and thus is reaching for the goals of many others looking to do the same, but so much is unknown about what he brings to accompany such progress and enlightenment. But for all the darkness of Africa, it could not elicit any dark reactions from Kurtz and the imperial idea if they did not already contain shady moral elements. The often skeptic Marlow, whose voice is left uninterrupted by Conrad during most of his narrative, is not consumed by the same weaknesses as Kurtz is. He had stepped over the edge; while I had been permitted to hold back my hesitating foot. ” Marlow knows that the great imperial mission is tainted by something inherent in its constitution. Africa is a dark place where people like Kurtz cannot restrain themselves when egged on by some unknown shared, immoral feeling. Above all, the idea of imperialism seems to explore both hypocrisy and moral confusion. The reader views Marlow, idealistic and forced to connect himself to either the malicious colonial bureaucracy or with the rule-defying, mysterious and questionable Kurtz.

Heart of Darkness looks into the notions of a choice between the lesser of two evils. Then again, can moral or social values relate to judging evil? Marlow witnesses a number of questionable acts while in the Congo, and these motions in turn reflect back to the larger issue of imperialism and its ideals: at the Outer Station, Marlow watches native laborers blast away at a hillside with no particular goal in mind. The illogical incorporates, often at the same time, both life-or-death issues with non-sensical absurdity.

The reader sees first hand that greed is a foe difficult to stand up against, and one so big that no man, not even the mighty Kurtz, can take a stand against alone. Kurtz was placed in a setting where greed raged, and in time became a part of him, eventually taking him over. In the end monetary power or power over other individuals gets us nowhere in the world, no matter our cause’s status. Kurtz represents the unraveling of the dishonest, treacherous ‘civilizing’ imperialism that was utilized in an attempt to control the Congo from Belgium.

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While Joseph Conrad writes that the darkness that is responsible for Kurtz’s eventual downfall (both morally and physically) lies in the Congo itself, he also puts an amount of as much of that dim, unclear aura in Kurtz and the imperialism that he come to represent. In the end, Heart of Darkness becomes merely a hazy title whose purpose and meaning remains unclear even at the end of the story. At the finale, it becomes clear that the Congo, Mr. Kurtz, and imperialism itself all have hearts equally dark in Conrad’s twisted reality.

Author: Alfred Gobeil

in Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness Kurtz

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