of faith in the positive possibilities inherent in human nature.
32 For Marlow
insists that "the mind of man" contains all possibilities, good and evil.
When T. S. Eliot chose a line of dialogue from Heart of Darkness ("Mistah Kurtz -- he dead") for the epigraph to his meditative poem "The Hollow Men,"
he was paying tribute to a revealing leitmotif in the novel. Conrad's hollowman motif (which includes both Kurtz and Marlow, in addition to the absurd
cast of caricatures encountered along the journey) underscores his notion that
nothingness lies at the heart of darkness. By calling Kurtz's "shade" the "initiated wraith from the back of nowhere" (50), Marlow implies that he has
learned an important object lesson by vicariously re-living Kurtz's ordeal and
looking down into the abyss. Marlow has attained at least a measure of wisdom
by projecting his own illusions about life and recognizing that they are nothing
but illusions. If experience is a constant process of disillusionment, then the
manufacturing of personal illusions must be equally constant in order for human
beings to go on living. Acknowledging his dilemma in having to choose between
two repugnant "nightmares," telling the appalling "truth" of Kurtz's existence
to the Intended or fabricating a moribund lie that reinforces her idealistic image
of Kurtz, Marlow chooses to affirm the value of life by denying the truth as he
knows it. But, in so doing, he condemns himself to a lifelong internalization of
the nothingness at the heart of Kurtz's darkness.
Frederick R. Karl and
Laurence Davies, eds., The Collected Letters of Joseph
Conrad 1898- 1902 ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 2:417.
Norman Sherry, ed., Conrad: The Critical Heritage ( London and Boston: Routledge Kegan Paul, 1973), 132. Subsequent references to this edition will be cited parenthetically in the text.
For pertinent biographical details concerning Conrad's experience in the Congo,
see Jocelyn Baines, Joseph Conrad: A Critical Biography ( New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960), 101-19; Norman Sherry, Conrad's Western World ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 9-124; Frederick R. Karl, Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives ( New
York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979), 283-301; Ian Watt, Conrad in the Nineteenth
Century ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 135-46; Zdzislaw Najder, Joseph Conrad: A Chronicle ( New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1983), 123-
Robert Hampson, "Introduction" to the Penguin Twentieth Century Classics
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness with The Congo Diary ( London and New
York: Penguin, 1995), xxii-xxvii.
Oriental saints are often compared to a lotus flower, which retains its purity even
though it grows from the mire of the earth. According to The Lotus of the Good Law, a
scripture in the Japanese Buddhist tradition, Nirvana is attainable for those who recognize
that all phenomena are maya, a mirage, a dream.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Norton Critical Edition, Third Edition, ed. Robert Kimbrough ( New York: Norton, 1988), 68. Subsequent references to this edition
will be cited parenthetically in the text.