Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness Charlie Marlow Quotes
[Marlow on Kurtz’s writing]: "But it was a beautiful piece of writing. The opening paragraph, however, in the light of later information, strikes me now as ominous. He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, 'must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings - we approach them with the might of a deity,' and so on, and so on. 'By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,' etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence - of words - of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases […]" (2.29)
Marlow admires Kurtz’s eloquence even though the content of the words is frightening. Kurtz tells the white men to approach the black native Africans as gods, to incite their worship so they can "exert a power for good practically unbounded." Marlow is carried away by Kurtz’s idealism and his "unbounded power of eloquence." It is Kurtz’s words that deeply move him.
"I made the strange discovery that I had never imagined him [Kurtz] as doing, you know, but as discoursing. I didn’t say to myself, ‘Now I will never see him,’ or ‘Now I will never shake him by the hand,’ but, ‘Now I will never hear him.’ The man presented himself as a voice…The point was in his being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the one that stood out pre-eminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words – the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness." (2.24)
Marlow realizes he has imagined Kurtz this whole time not as a man, but only as a voice. Kurtz’s reality – for Marlow, at least – occurs primarily in language. Marlow admires him most for his "gift of expression" which he can use both for good (for making contact with mankind, for making things understood) or for evil (for deceit).
"'Can you steer?' I asked the agent eagerly. He looked very dubious; but I made a grab at his arm, and he understood at once I meant him to steer whether or no." (2.23)
It is not the words "can you steer" but the gesture of grabbing the pilgrim’s arm that make him understand that Marlow wants him to steer. Language is ineffective in the interior, but gestures and human contact are not.