Kurtz: A Mystery in Disguise - "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad

Essay by kookookrnboiHigh School, 12th grade May 2006

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Sometimes a character, one that is barely mentioned in the novel, can be an integral part of the novel itself - one who brings out one of the novel's main themes. Kurtz is one such example in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness". The mystery in this novel is mainly about a character named Kurtz whom Marlow desires to meet and speak with. Kurtz, like many others, changes due to overexposure in the African jungle. But even after Marlow meets with Kurtz, Kurtz is still a mystery to Marlow and to Conrad's readers. To Marlow, Kurtz became widely known as the man with many faces -like adding an entire new identity over his body. In the novel, Kurtz can be viewed in many perspectives. He could be the "flabby devil," he could be an honest man, and he could even be mindless idiot who was overwhelmed by Africa. Because of Kurtz's constant changes, his mysteriousness starts to cloud the reader's impression of Kurtz.

His ambiguity of his nature not only reflects how Africa changes a person entirely, but also the mysteriousness of Africa itself. Through his ambiguity, Kurtz teaches Marlow a lesson that all men are hiding from the truth, but Kurtz still reveals himself more like a cipher, a mysterious human code. Conrad uses Kurtz as one of his prime examples to represent the mystery of Africa; from Kurtz's many faces to Africa's effect on Kurtz as well as the other Europeans, Conrad wants to point out that everyone/everything possesses a mystery within themselves - an idea Marlow soon realizes through Kurtz's final words: "The Horror! The Horror!" (64).

Kurtz however, before his venture to the African jungle, was just an ordinary Englishman with hopes and dreams. To many people back home, he was known to be a...