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Bout de Souffle
Out of Breath
Ethical Struggle with Kurtz's Intended
081
Marlow is plagued by the death of Kurtz. His mental torture is derived not by the loss of the man, but contrarily by the life of Kurtz’s ideas and words. Most horrifically disturbing is the resonance of Kurtz’s final utterance before death. Marlow seems surrounded by the horror still a year after the death of Kurtz, and even appears somewhat disturbed in his retelling of the events that took place when he visited Kurtz’s Intended. Marlow’s visit to the Intended manifests itself as a convoluted ethical struggle, which is complicated by Marlow’s sense of impending horror, his impressions of the Intended’s personality, and his inner debate about Kurtz’s posthumous desires.

Before Marlow even arrives at the residence of Kurtz’s Intended, he has a stirring vision drawn from his memory of the man:

“I had a vision of him … opening his mouth voraciously as if to devour all the earth. He lived then before me … a shadow darker than the shadow of night. The vision seemed to enter the house with me – the stretcher, the phantom bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forest … the beat of the drum regular and muffled like the beating of a heart, the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness.”

Marlow notes the stigma of Kurtz’s extreme appetite in horrific terms, and identifies Kurtz’s aura as the darkest imaginable shade. All of the trimmings come with Marlow’s vision, which seems to absorb him once again into the frightening realm surrounding Kurtz. Marlow mentions Kurtz’s “worshippers” with a sense of disgust for the psychological control with which they were influenced. The drum, the symbol of the tempo of the darkness and evilness of the forest, is mentioned here to introduce an aural element to Marlow’s mental anguish, finally enveloping him in a “conquering darkness” which pervades his senses. All of this comes before his meeting with the Intended, foreshadowing the twisted and difficult interaction ahead.

Marlow’s first impressions of the Intended seem to hold true through their meeting. The most noteworthy first impression is the image of her “pale head” in contrast with her “all black” clothing, which comes back time and time again in Marlow’s retelling of their encounter. A similar element within his first impressions is the note of her “trustful” nature, which, again, will return later, but for the moment seems to have an effect on his own honest judgment. An interesting prediction comes from his appraisal of the way she carries herself: “She carried her sorrowful head as though she were proud of that sorrow, as though she would say, I – I alone know how to mourn for him as he deserves.” This appraisal is confirmed with stunning precision later on, which puts into question to what extent Marlow is exaggerating his accuracy to his audience. The final and most horrific first impression is made when Marlow sees the death of Kurtz in the very sorrow of the Intended. She is made out to be a creature that transcends time and is just as sorrowful now as she would be in the moment of Kurtz’s death, which reminds Marlow of the terror he encountered in his prior vision of darkness and horror. It is at this moment of realization that Marlow begins to regret his decision to see the Intended: “I ask myself what I was doing there, with a sensation of panic in my heart as though I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurd mysteries not fit for a human being to behold." This shock and panic is only on the interior, as Marlow displays to the Intended an air of normalcy. She does not suspect the racing terror in his mind, and the conversation proceeds without her becoming aware of his shaky nerves.

The resulting conversation is riddled with anxiety and a degree of annoyance on Marlow’s part. The Intended guides the conversation where she wants, and Marlow can only respond to her while juggling the question of ethics in his mind. She says, “[Y]ou admired him! It was impossible to know him and not to admire him. Was it?.” She makes an assertion about Marlow and declares her statement to be undeniably true before actually asking Marlow, which puts him in no position to disagree. His response about Kurtz’s remarkable nature is uttered “unsteadily” because of the way the answer was forced on him, and because of the degree of uncertainty Marlow feels in his answer. Marlow agrees with the Intended in such a shaky manner because he is still trying to decide whether or not to reveal the truth about Kurtz to the innocent, trustful woman. Further forced to speech by the “fixity of her gaze that seemed to watch for more words,” Marlow begins to tell her it was impossible not to admire the man, though the Intended quickly interrupts and finishes his sentence with “love” in place of admire. Marlow is silenced and “appalled.” He then agrees with her that she knew Kurtz best; this is Marlow’s first lie. The pressure of the Intended’s eager and trustful nature forces Marlow to slip into a mode of deceit, and it would only become harder to reveal the truth from this point on. Marlow is immediately mentally affected by his own lie, noticing that “the room was growing darker and only her forehead smooth and white remained illuminated by the inextinguishable light of belief and love.” Again, Marlow is besieged by the darkness and horror which drew around him at the onset of his visit and lingered in the air, only for him to notice again with growing fright. The Intended’s belief in Kurtz’ greatness and lovable nature is the only bright side to his rather dark life and death, and Marlow is dragged down into the darkness surrounding this singular point of light.

The Intended continues to speak in this manner, which illuminates herself and casts all else into further darkness: “I want you – you who have heard his last words – to know I have been worthy of him. … It is not pride. … Yes! I am proud to know I understood him better than any one on earth.” The accuracy with which Marlow predicted this statement is astounding, unless his earlier foreshadowing is considered an embellishment in retelling the story. Either way, the Intended’s pride and assumed worthiness are prevalent in her speech. Marlow in silence could only listen, not knowing what to respond, knowing every second that it was becoming still more difficult to speak in truth to the Intended; “The darkness deepened.” Interestingly, just as the Intended is sure she is worthy of Kurtz, she has certitude in Marlow’s sympathy, albeit false, and continues on with her overwhelming speech:

“She looked at me with intensity. ‘It is the gift of the great,’ she went on and the sound of her low voice seemed to have the accompaniment of all the other sounds full of mystery, desolation, and sorrow I had ever heard – the ripple of the river, the soughing of the trees swayed by the wind, the murmurs of the crowds, the faint ring of incomprehensible words cried from afar, the whisper of a voice speaking from beyond the threshold of an eternal darkness.”

Although her voice is low, it is the mental accompaniment that overwhelms Marlow. The mystery, desolation, and sorrow he recalls and parallels with her speech are drawn straight from the forest. He makes this parallel as an extension of the pairing of Kurtz’s death and the Intended’s sorrow from his first impressions. Ironically, what buries Marlow in ever-growing darkness is the Intended’s brightness, by means of contrast. Every positive word of hers is a reminder of how twisted and horrible the truth is. Marlow, engulfed in the darkness, begins to see the Intended as a figure to worship, or at least to envy, and bows his head “before the faith that was in her, before that great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness.” Important to note is the “saving illusion,” which reminds Marlow that it is the falsehood that allows the Intended to shine so brightly and appear as a savior to him. The contrast between light and dark reaches the pinnacle when all of the remaining light is caught by her fair hair, bringing the light metaphor to a close.

The Intended shifts the topic to a discussion about the memory of Kurtz. When she begins a thought with “You and I. …” Marlow is quick to complete her thought by telling her what she thinks she wants to hear, in the manner in which she completed his sentence earlier in the conversation: “We shall always remember him.” But the Intended intended to relate a deeper meaning: that Marlow and she should ensure that Kurtz’s words and example live on. Marlow, at this point, seems to be lying with every utterance, telling the Intended what she wants to hear. He has nearly completely resigned to dishonesty, seeing no other available method for one wrapped in such terrible darkness as he is. So when the Intended says “his goodness shone I every act,” Marlow ensures that this statement is “true” although it is clear by this point that Marlow is not being frank with her by any means. Marlow adds, “his example, too. Yes, his example, I forgot that” in a very sarcastic tone, once again unnoticed by the Intended. Marlow then again describes what he sees in her actions, which are evidently mirrored again by the imagery her recalls from the forest:

“She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching them black and with clasped pale hands. … I saw him clearly enough then. I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live and I shall see her too, a tragic and familiar Shade resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over … the stream of darkness.”

Marlow is stirred to remember a similar action, nearly identical to the one he saw when he took Kurtz away from his base of operations. The Intended stretched her arms after the retreating figure of Kurtz, just like the African woman who reached out to him when Kurtz was being taken away. Marlow describes the Intended’s arms as “black” but also “pale,” signifying that her action was African in nature, not in color. In the Intended, Marlow sees the same complete obedience that Kurtz was given from the natives, just as psychologically grotesque as ever.

The following dialogue is the most riveting in terms of Marlow’s dishonesty and ethical struggle with the Intended. Marlow, agreeing with her yet again, tells her that “His end was in every way worthy of his life.” Marlow feels a “dull anger” filling him, partially because of the extent to which his course of deceit has travelled, but even more because the Intended will never really know of Kurtz’s death and has simply been assuming that she, by some divine providence, has acquired an otherworldly insight into Kurtz’s death and the meaning behind it. Marlow is annoyed by her assumptions, and further annoyed by the fact that he is now too far into a lie to set her straight. But his anger turns into pity after she remarks that she was not with Kurtz at his death. Marlow genuinely respects that the Intended wishes she could have been with Kurtz. Marlow, however, has misconstrued the Intended; she explains that she did not want to simply be with Kurtz because she genuinely loved him, but that she wanted to be with Kurtz because she was the only one who could care for him properly: “He needed me. Me! I would have treasured every sigh, every word, every sign, every glance.” Her pride and snobbish nature puts a “chill grip” on Marlow’s chest, driving out the momentary warmth that he was mistaken in giving her. He should not pity her, since she was again being prideful and presumptuous. Finally, Marlow is tempted with revealing the truth to her, to silence her display of assumption and pride: “I heard his very last words.” He stops in a fright, suddenly dreading the idea of telling her the truth: the truth that, Marlow believes, Kurtz would want his Intended to be told. Marlow has already seen what it is like the carry the burden of Kurtz’s will, words, and example. He has seen horrific visions and is haunted still by the events that took place in Africa’s heart of darkness, which, like the ever-present psychological Hell that follows Satan in Paradise Lost no matter in which physical location he resides, follows Marlow back to England. To him, the heart of darkness is no longer a location, but a state of mind. With this realization, that Kurtz’s true legacy would curse the Intended with he same horror that cursed him, Marlow lies about Kurtz’s final words and simply tell her that he uttered her name. “‘I knew it – I was sure!’ … She knew. She was sure." Marlow mentally repeats her prideful assumption, knowing full well the irony that she actually knows nothing at all of the truth. Marlow’s sarcastic response reveals that he knew it was probably the type of response he would get from the Intended. The revelation of Kurtz’s false final words causes the Intended to place her hands over her face, thus rendering her pale white, light face dark, which means there was now no light at all on the situation. Marlow’s lie transfers itself to her visage, darkening it with dishonesty that she will probably never realize.

Marlow assures himself in his actions with the very last words of his tale; had he told her the truth about the horror of Kurtz’s words, “It would have been too dark – too dark altogether.” Marlow reflects on the fact that Kurtz said he only wanted justice, and Marlow seems to believe that justice, in Kurtz’s opinion, would be the truth of his horrible, deathly enlightenment. However, Marlow seems to disagree with Kurtz, deciding that the real justice is in never exposing the Intended to the world of darkness that Kurtz opened; to never bring to light Kurtz’s posthumous will of justice and truth about “the horror” he faced. Marlow ultimately decides that there is no goodness in the truth, which speaks measures about the horror of the world, both literal and psychological, that exists around him.



Based on the last pages of Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
5 Comments.


Your accent
You need to take this test to figure out where your accent comes from. :)

http://www.gotoquiz.com/what_american_accent_do_you_have
» KkaMA67 on 2007-03-23 03:00:51

I was placed in the Northeast, from Jersey.
Which is where I'm actually from. And I answered every question that words that are supposed to sound different, sound different. So apparently people from my area speak the language most correctly.
» Bartholomew on 2007-03-23 05:48:29

hello bartholomew =]
» changbang on 2007-03-25 12:17:28

i took the test and was placed in the midland. which is weird because im not even near that.
» changbang on 2007-03-25 01:36:46

yeahh i really liked the movie. I was just mad that she didn't remember her!!
» changbang on 2007-03-30 09:33:48

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