Degeneration of Kurtz, Colonialism, and Imperialism in Heart of Darkness

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Degeneration of Kurtz and Colonialism in Heart of Darkness

Kurtz was a personal embodiment, a dramatization, of all that Conrad felt of futility, degradation, and horror in what the Europeans in the Congo called 'progress,' which meant the exploitation of the natives by every variety of cruelty and treachery known to greedy man. Kurtz was to Marlow, penetrating this country, a name, constantly recurring in people's talk, for cleverness and enterprise. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a portrait of the degeneration of the ideal of Kurtz symbolizing the degeneration of the ideal of colonialism as 'civilizing work'.

The fading of the idealist mirage of 'civilizing work' in Africa has to be one of the central
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Marlow also spoke to Kurtz's journalist colleague, who remembered about Kurtz: "Heavens! how that man could talk! He electrified large meetings. He had the faith - don't you see - he had the faith. He could get himself to believe anything - anything" (Conrad 71). The other thing Kurtz met in the Congo was silence. The dialogue became a monologue, because the other side of the conversation is only wilderness.

Kurtz's whole orientation in the Congo was based on the quest for ever-increasing quantities of ivory. In this lay the weakness of Kurtz, for he wanted something, unlike his Russian companion. Kurtz's intelligence, his ideas, and his plans, were captive to his status as ivory gatherer. Kurtz's rejection of the validity of the 'unsound method' was not the problem. The problem with Kurtz, which Marlow does not realize, is not that Kurtz went native, but that he did not go native enough. In other words, Kurtz did not abandon the ivory-fetish. Kurtz's link with colonialism is therefore his undoing, even in the individual decay he undergoes.

Kurtz, more than anyone, was a signal of human potential to Marlow, the 'universal genius', the 'extraordinary man' found the limits of his potential much more easily in his isolation: "Believe me or not, his intelligence was perfectly clear - concentrated, it is true, upon himself with a horrible intensity, yet clear..."(Conrad 65). Kurtz's abilities had nothing to work on

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