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CHAPTER III (continued)

MARLOW'S ILLNESS AND RETURN

Following Kurtz's death, Marlow catches a fever that very nearly kills him. (This is partly autobiographical: Conrad came down with dysentery during his voyage on the Congo.) Marlow finds his struggle with death "the most unexciting contest you can imagine," and is distressed that he can find no final pronouncement as strong as Kurtz's. "This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it.... He had
summed up-he had judged." After all, grim as it is, Kurtz's final whisper represents "the expression of some sort of belief." Without moral beliefs you can't make moral judgments, you can't think something is a horror without a standard of good to compare it to. Obviously Kurtz failed to live up to his own standard, but at least he had one. So he can recognize the evil he performed, unlike the rest of the whites in Africa, who would be shocked if you told them they were doing anything immoral.


Marlow goes back to Brussels, and his words suggest that he's suffered a mental breakdown as well as a fever: "It was not my strength that wanted nursing, it was my imagination that wanted soothing." As Kurtz has entrusted him with a packet of papers, various interested parties show up to lay their claims. The Company sends a representative to retrieve whatever might help in further exploitation of the territory; Marlow informs him, coldly but truthfully, that the papers don't have that sort of value. (Obviously he's satisfied at being able to place himself at last in open opposition to the odious Company.) A cousin of Kurtz's claims some family letters and memoranda. From this man Marlow learns that Kurtz was a fine musician, a fact that conforms with what we know of Kurtz's character-musicians being often sensitive and high strung. Marlow also receives a visit from a journalist colleague of Kurtz's. This man talks admiringly of Kurtz's talents as a speaker; he thinks Kurtz had the makings of a great radical politician. This, too, we can believe: by now we've heard a good deal about Kurtz's humane ideals and about the power he had to sway people with his speech. The journalist's remark that Kurtz "could get himself to believe anything" is a little more ambiguous, though, since it suggests that Kurtz's high ideals may not have gone very deep.

Considering how totally he deserted them, this makes sense, too. Marlow gives this man Kurtz's report to the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs (having been careful to tear off the scrawled postscript), and the journalist carries this set of platitudes contentedly away.

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