Kurtz’s Cryptic Whisper
The significance of Kurtz’s final words, “the horror, the horror”, in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is an enigma – and for good reason. When Conrad signed off arguably his most important character, he did so in a way that would be both memorable and open to interpretation (two features that often have an interdependent relationship in literature). The ambiguity of those words serves to remove any limitation to their meaning and, by doing so, allows Conrad to convey a multitude of messages through one short phrase.
The atrocities that Kurtz and the Company commit during their time in the Congo are most certainly horrific. The death and despair that they leave in their wake are a stark contrast to the altruistic endeavors for which they supposedly set out on their conquest. Instead of bringing civilization and knowledge to the people of the Congo, Kurtz becomes corrupted by power and greed and enforces his command over the natives by presenting the heads of so-called ‘rebels’ on stakes - among other things. Kurtz may have been commenting on the overwhelming evil that would have to exist within the hearts of men in order to motivate them to perpetrate such selfish and cruel actions.
The horror that Kurtz cites may also refer to his inability to actualize his “immense plans”. It is difficult to determine how much of Kurtz’s mentality is focused on bringing civility to the people of the Congo and how much is…