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Contrasting marlow and kurtz and the theme of evil in

Contrasting Marlow and Kurtz and the Theme of Evil In "Heart of Darkness"

It can be said that a certain degree of darkness lies within every person,

but this darkness will not surface unless given the correct environment. The

darkness, however, can emerge and ultimately destroy the person if not checked

by reason. If one's inner darkness does surface, the victim then is given the

opportunity to reach a point in personal growth, and to gain a sense of self-

knowledge from it. That is, when one's darkness appears, one must learn from

this experience how he or she can prevent similar results from occurring in the

future. It is ultimately through self-knowledge that we gain the power to

defeat our inner darkness, and all of its elements. Just as everyone has the

potential for evil within themselves, we too have the potential for true

goodness. In many literary works the author attempts to exemplify the evil

which lies within by showing many characters which have been, or are being

overcome by their inner darkness. In the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph

Conrad we see how Marlow's journey into his ultimate evil, into his inner self,

can be a positive experience. By contrasting Marlow with Kurtz, who represents

the absolute evil, we can see the two products of an inner evil which has

emerged. Marlow, who defeats his evil, and gains self-knowledge, and Kurtz, who

is defeated by his darkness and falls prey to its wrath. In William Golding's

Lord of the Flies the author points out how easily people can be over taken by

the darkness, how the potential for good can be destroyed by the evil, but

ideally how good will triumph. Through an examination of these two works we can

see how the darkness within, given the correct environment will surface. The

circumstances which eventually cause the appearance of the inner darkness in

these two novels stems from the lack of civility, the true test, or journey

which every life contains, and finally the product of evil which lies in all of

us, either through acts of commission or omission.

When people lack the aspect of civility in their lives they too will lack

the restraints and barriers it has on one's inner evil. Civility, in essence,

provides the basic structure for good. Through laws, structure, and general

order, goodness then, for the most part will be the end product. Therefore a

lack of civility would result in a lack of order, morals, and laws, leaving

chaos to over power. The desolate island in The Lord of the Flies represents a

lack of civility. Without parents, law makers, and guardians the darkness which

surfaces is inevitable. Piggy said in a feared state upon this realization:

"This is an island? Well I think this is an island! That's a reef out in the

sea. That means we are all alone! Perhaps there aren't any grownups anywhere"

(Golding 4). It is clear that the civilization of the modern world is

unavailable on the island. Although Ralph, who represented the aspect of order,

attempts to reach a point of civility, unfortunately was unsuccessful. He said

in his struggle: "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all we're not

savages. We're English, and the English are the best at everything" (Golding

25). Ironically the very group he was talking to broke order and formed the

savage group known as the 'hunters'. Similarly Piggy too represents civility.

He incorporates the conch which to aids in the order of the island. He is very

fearful of the lack of civility and scared by the hunters. He feels that

civility and order, although the ideal route, was going to be crushed, and with

it him: "We can't do this, the savages, they would crush us" (Golding 54). It

is quite obvious how the potential evil in a group of young boys unavoidably

arises due to the lack of restraint and order. When the darkness surfaces Jack

and his group of hunters gain no self-knowledge, and therefore can not reprieve

themselves nor the evil which takes over.

A strong parallel can be drawn between the island in Lord of the Flies and

The Congo in The Heart of Darkness. The Congo in is similarly used to represent

the absence of restraint and order. The effect which is used exemplifies a lack

of civility, which in turn provides the opportunity for the emergence of

darkness. At the beginning of the novel Marlow begins his descent into the

Congo, which presents a dark image of death and suffering.

It was a thing which looked as dead as the carcass of some

strange animal. I came upon more pieces of decaying

machinery, and a stack of rusty rails. To the left a clump

of trees in a twisted shady spot, the ground shook (Conrad 52).

The capacity for evil in the jungle is endless. This is illustrated through the

natives which who go mad and begin killing. Marlow struggles but by realizing

his potential for good, manages to contain his evil. Unfortunately the result

was not the same for many others: "I don't know how this would have struck the

others but to me the evil was unspeakable, but not undefeatable" (Conrad 85).

The Congo and the lack of restraints it represents causes one to lose common

sense. Without common sense the mind is deteriorated. It is also left twisted

and functionally useless in regards to civilized thought or action. The power

of mind in most cases is no match for the lack of order and the lack of reason

for most of the Congo's inhabitants. Kurtz fell victim to this and his mind

became extremely deteriorated due to the lack of order. He eventually finds his

inner darkness come forth and essentially control all his thoughts and actions.

By comparing the two novels it is clear how one's inner darkness will

surface without the restraints of civilization. In the case of Jack and the

hunters, the children are accustom to civility, laws, and order. The fact that

parents and teachers were always placing unwanted rules on them, probably caused

an initial enjoyment of the lack of civility so much that the growing savageness

within grew blindly. The darkness was being to rise. This is shown through

Jack, when asked about the war paint he was wearing replied: "For hunting! Like

in the wars, you know, dazzle paint! We look more savage!"(Golding 71) This

can be compared to the darkness which surfaced in Kurtz and the natives of the

Congo, however their darkness was the result of greed rather than ignorance.

Unlike Jack and the hunters, the greed for money and power by Kurtz allowed his

darkness, which controlled him in the end, to surface. The on going evil

growing in Kurtz was not only a result of the jungle, but it was shown through

it as well. As he gained more darkness the jungle thickened and became

increasingly dangerous: " we crept on closer towards Kurtz the snags were

thickining and the water becoming treacherous..." (Conrad 82) If civilized limits

are placed upon society as a whole, the majority of people have the opportunity

to contain the darkness within. If and when it occasionally surfaces then the

knowledge which is gained through a civilized lifestyle will contain, and defeat

the individual's darkness.

It is true that every person must undergo the ultimate test at some point

of his or hers life time. The test between good and evil. This test can be as

simple as small, daily difficulties, or as large as the general principle in

which one bases his or hers life upon. Although many people will fail the test

which are given to them, it is better to attempt the test and fail, than it is

never to have taken it at all. Ralph and Piggy, who as well as representing

civility, now also represent the goodness, or the 'passers' of this test of life.

Through the many altercations with the hunters, those who have failed the test,

we can observe the darkness beginning to rise. The ultimate dark figure, Jack,

who hasn't even attempted the test, that is to be satisfied with one's dark

lifestyle, shows how the journey of life presents us with the tasks and trials

which we are tested upon. Piggy perhaps was the character who was presented

with the most tests. Many times he almost lost his sense and civility, but he

always prevailed. Piggy at the verge of losing his sense murmured: "Nobody

knows where we are! Perhaps they knew before but they don't know now 'cos we'll

never get there!" (Golding 36) Not soon after, however, Piggy regained his

sensible approach to the situation. It is impossible for one person to pass

every test that life gives them, but the important thing is that you learn from

every test, pass or fail, one must gain self-knowledge from each altercation.

When Marlow's time came to take his test, it was not necessarily that he

passed it, but more importantly he gains the self-knowledge needed in order to

defeat the darkness within him. By containing his darkness and preventing the

release of his evil, he allows a certain degree of goodness to surface. The

result of one's ability to contain his or her darkness does not always equal

goodness, but instead it represents the awareness gained from each test. The

natives show through their savagery and murderous ways that they have

subsequently failed to gain the desired self-knowledge to maintain their

goodness. Kurtz can be viewed as the character in the novel who doesn't attempt

to take life's challenges and at length seals his dark fate. Marlow's first

view of Kurtz shows how the goodness, and evil fail to co-exist together:

Seeing Kurtz for the first time, It was a distant glimpse:

the dugout, four paddling savages, and the lone white

man turning his back suddenly on the headquarters, on

relief, on thoughts of home--perhaps; setting his face

towards the depths of the wilderness, towards his

empty and desolate station (Conrad 75).

Had Kurtz even attempted the journey or test he was faced with perhaps he may

have seen things in a different light. The natives on the other hand appear

ignorant, but at the same time they appear content with their lifestyles.

The two novels can be compared in many ways according to the characters,

and the tests they take along the journey of their lives. Piggy and Ralph can

be compared to Marlow in the fact that they had either passed the test or

clearly gained the self-knowledge to prevent the potential darkness within

themselves from escaping. The two groups, the 'hunters' and the 'natives' can

be similarly compared in terms regarding the characters who attempted to take

the test but failed, an action which can, but not in these two cases, result in

self-knowledge. Finally the two symbols of true darkness, Kurtz and Jack. The

darkness within them surfaced due to that fact that not only did they fail to

take the test of life, but they appeared to be content with the situation that

this left them in.

The evil which lies within all of us has a third and final way of showing

itself. This is exemplified through acts of commission, and through acts of

omission. Edmund Burke was quoted as saying "Evil happens when good men do but

nothing" (Encarta {Quotations}). The actions which one commits, or fails to

commit, can act as a channel in which evil or darkness will begin show. The

dark forces which lay in Jack and his group were confirmed by their final direct

actions. The action which reiterated the darkness in Jack was the murder of

Piggy. The murder was very brutal, and unnecessary: "The rock that had killed

Piggy had bounded into the thicket and bounced there, landing in the middle for

all to see" (Golding 230). Not only had they committed the murder but they

indirectly reinforced their desire to deny civilization, as Piggy represented

this. Earlier in the novel when Jack, and the hunters, directly disregarded

civilization, they performed their first act of omission. This coupled with the

savagery they possessed, showed a distinct lack of reason and reality, two of

the key components to maintaining one's inner goodness. Finally the murder of

Simon, who represented the Christ figure in the book, was the element which

finalized Jack's descent into a irretrievable darkness.

Through the acts of commission and omission in Heart of Darkness, it is

clear how the same actions, by separate people, can result in differing

consequences. Marlow and Kurtz both live within the treacherous Congo, and are

involved in the sales of ivory to gain power and wealth. The greed and

stubbornness shown by the two men is very similar, but the result divers. Due

to Kurtz's inner darkness which had risen, his downfall was evident. But

through Marlow's ability to gain the self-knowledge required he was able to

prevent his evil from emerging, which in turn would lead to his eventual demise.

The natives on the other hand represent an indirect act of omission in which

they were unable to obtain any knowledge. When the evil within them begins to

surface they begin to break down mentally and physically. They become fierce,

then eventually cataclysmic. They allow their true inner evil to take over, and

they lose all capacity to gain any self-knowledge, which may have averted this


The characters in the novels again are comparative with respect to direct

and indirect actions. Marlow and Ralph, through all the hardships and lack of

civility, overcome the test of life, and finally prevent their own actions from

surfacing their inner darkness. They are alike as they gain the essential

knowledge to prevent this potential evil from taking its course. The natives

and hunters find themselves in a situation in which, although they have

committed few actions, have by-passed the opportunity to gain the smallest

amount of knowledge, let alone the amount needed for to prevent future evil

occurrences. Finally, Kurtz and Jack through their direct and deliberate

actions place themselves in a position where it is obvious that self-knowledge

and control is not what they desire, but instead the inner darkness which

controls them to surface. When one is in the position of gaining self-knowledge,

or materialistic amounts, we are faced with one of the greatest and most true

tests of life, it is imperative that one takes the test, for you can not avoid

the test by attempting to gain both.

Through examining the many different images which allow one's inner evil

to surface, the lack of civility and restraints for good, the test which we must

endure through life, and evil through commission and omission, it is evident how

evil, if not checked by reality, reason, and imagination can surface in real

life situations. Even in today's society with the amount of civility we posses,

inner darkness may arise in many ways. This is predominate in direct actions,

but appropriately too through those omission. With the potential for evil so

great in today's materialistic, difficult society, we find ourselves with the

difficult task of taking life's many journeys and tests. Not every journey will

result in goodness, and the ones that do not are a learning experience in which

must gain the self-knowledge to prevent our inner darkness from emerging. We

must also be able to take the knowledge with us through every experience we

encounter and incorporate it into our daily lives.

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