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Free Study Guide for Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad-BookNotes/Summary
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CHAPTER 3

Notes

Conrad's last chapter contains the end of all of Marlow's illusions and his decision to act in complicity with the ideological supports of European imperialism. Contrary to Marlow's beliefs, Kurtz does not turn out to be the great white hope. Instead, he is totally ruthless. Kurtz, just like the other Europeans that work for the company, has used the ideas of white supremacy and the technology of progress to subdue the Africans in mind and body and to take their natural resources without payment.

When Marlow realizes the truth about Kurtz and acknowledges that he is actually insane, Marlow still does not stop identifying with him. Instead, he acts as Kurtz's champion, preserving his legacy and lying to his Intended. One reason Marlow might have done so is that he could not see another option. In Marlow's estimation, he has only two choices of nightmares; the nightmare of the money- grubbing imperialists who have no ideas to justify taking African land and lives, or the nightmare of the insane Kurtz, who has ideas of moral righteousness, but still uses those ideas to take African land and lives. Marlow may also feel that the Manager and the ivory company are largely to blame for Kurtz's ruthless behavior. Marlow, however, has no one to blame for his own behavior. In returning to Europe and lying in defense of Kurtz, Marlow joins in complicity with imperialism.


Part of the reason Marlow perpetuates the lie is his conception of the weakness of women. Recall earlier how he referred to his aunt's naiveté about the profit motive of the trading company. For Marlow, women cannot stand the truth of reality and it is for men to protect them from it by lying to them. The Intended all but asks for a lie. She encourages Marlow to tell her only of the good and noble aspects of Kurtz and his goals for his job in Africa. In Marlow's paternalism toward women, there is a subtle comparison to the European's paternalism toward the Africans.

The closing frame narrative, the last paragraph of the novel, includes the Director remarking on the tide, that the first ebb is lost. It is a comment on Marlow's story as well as the tide. Notice that Marlow gets no response to his tale from his listeners. With the exception of the frame narrator, the other three of Marlow's listeners on board the Nellie seem to be unmoved by Marlow's torturous tale. It is a comment on man's uncaring nature, on his unwillingness to react to man's inhumanity to his fellow man.

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