Essay on Voice, Words and Sound in Heart of Darkness

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Voice, Words and Sound in Heart of Darkness To Marlow, voice is the supreme symbol of civilization, and civilized understanding is expressed through words. The absence of words, or the inability to express something in words, signals meaninglessness. The psychedelic experience brings one into direct confrontation with the breakdown of language (the ‘transcendence of verbal concepts’ cited in the introduction), its inability to express the hidden truth of existence. Marlow becomes aware of this—primarily through his direct experience with Kurtz—yet he does not fully allow himself to believe in the failure of language. After all, language is still the most effective tool he has for communication. Sound is a signifier of…show more content…
Then is the silence of fear, which changes to wails of threatened humanity. The white man conquers: the voices of the black men are silenced, and the sound left in the air is of technology. The defeat of the Africans is expressed in silence. Sound and voice define power. The silence of the forest is terrifying because sound is unnecessary to prove the forest’s power and its silence consumes the sounds of man. This is the first destabilization of sound for Marlow, the second occurring with Kurtz. First, Marlow discovers the power in silence, and then, he discovers the powerlessness of language. Kurtz is the personification of language—a voice. The voice speaks in English and it is this language that marks Kurtz as the supreme representative of European civilization. Marlow describes Kurtz as a man made by Europe, and his words express all that is positive and moral about European man. Marlow discovers that words are what allow the pretence of surface-reality and are not to be trusted because they don’t always represent fact. Kurtz’s words do not express the factual reality of his actions in the Congo. Only on the brink of death does he find the words that are not hollow, not pretence, the words that express the truth of his life. ‘The horror! The horror!’ has been interpreted differently by many critics. I would argue that the only way to interpret these words that is meaningful to the novella
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