I had this entire thing almost written, almost done, and it was fantastic. However, I’ve never used this app before and I accidentally deleted the 200+ words I had finished, so I’m a bit frustrated at the mo. I’m writing this down because this comparison of characters is important to me, I want to get it out there, and writing about one’s troubles is wonderfully therapeutic. Ok. I’m feeling better now. Let’s start.
After finishing Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, I was sitting and contemplating it’s deeper meanings and concepts, trying to piece together Conrad’s overarching message, when suddenly this idea of Kurtz and Hitler being incredibly similiar suddenly leapt up in front of me. This was obviously not intentional, as the book was written 40 years before the atrocities of WWII. However, this idea of this similarity between the characters stuck with me, and it refused to slip away.
The most striking similarity between Hitler and Kurtz is their frightening apptitude for not just the written word, but the voice itself. Of this trait in Hitler, I think we’ve all seen evidence enough. Odds are you’ve probably taken a history class, at university or during highschool; we’ve seen the footage of his speeches, the documentaries of the footage, the documents explaining the documentaries of the footage. Research of the Holocaust is endless, as merits the greatest tragedy in human history.
Before I go on, I should explain a belief of mine. I do not sympathize with Hitler, or any of his manic ideals. I do, however, refuse to believe that he was simply a monster out of a nightmare, a creature summoned from the depths of hell. I believe that he too was human; indeed, I find it hard to believe that he wasn’t, as from the films and photos we can clearly see he had lips and hands, not fangs and claws. I think through the fictitious Kurtz we can get a glimpse at what Adolf might have truly been like, behind the heavy curtain of history that we, the victors, wrote.
Back to this idea of the voice. There are three characters that we meet in Heart of Darkness who know the character Kurtz better than the rest. These characters are Marlow, the narrator, a boyish russian wanderer who befriended Kurtz in the wilderness, and Kurtz’s ‘Intended’; a blond, presumably blue-eyed woman. One wonders if Conrad possessed the power of premonition; but I digress. Both explain that after listening to him speak, it was hard not to love him. A year after Kurtz’s death, Marlow returns a set of papers and letters entrusted to him by Kurtz to this ‘intended’ woman, Kurtz’s fiance. Who is still in mourning. The blond angel, says this to Marlow: “…’Who was not his friend who had heard him speak once?’ she was saying. ‘He drew men towards him by what was best in them.’ She looked at me with intensity. ‘It is the gift of the great,’ she went on, and the sound of her low voice seemed to have all the other sounds, full of mystery, desolation, and sorrow that I had ever heard…” (Conrad, 142). After first landing at the station Kurtz is in charge of Marlow meets the russian wanderer: “‘Don’t you talk with Mr. Kurtz?’ I said. ‘You don’t talk with that man- you listen to him,’ he exclaimed with severe exaltation.” (Conrad, 99). Conrad even gives a foreshadowing of this, when earlier in the trip, before ever meeting the eager russian or the decieved angel, Marlow learns that Kurtz is most likely dead: “I made the strange discovery that I had never imagined him as doing, you know, but as discoursing. I didn’t say to myself, ‘Now I shall 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.” (Conrad, 86). And when we do meet him, it’s exactly as these characters describe. Marlow meets Kurtz while the man is dying of a strange sickness, and even then the man’s voice is powerful, persuasive.
Only after writing this, and thinking more of the characters and events that took place in the book, am I begginning to fully understand the depth and the symbolism that Conrad slipped into this piece. There is more to go into, but I must finish this comparison. Kurtz used this power he had, this apptitude with his voice, to coerce, bully, and decieve the natives into giving him ivory, for at the beginning, this was his job, acting as an agent of a european trading company. Then, it seems, in the isolation of the jungle, his thoughts began to darken, and his spirit began to twist. He manipulated and coerced and gained the trust of the natives until not only did they give him all the ivory he wanted, but they worshipped him as a god. We learn that he surrendered to desires and temptations, atrocities and horrors of the most depraved kind. We never learn all that Kurtz committed, but we Conrad infers it well enough that we get the picture. At one point, a series of posts surrounding Kurtz’s building that Marlow believed to be an unfinished fence is revealed to be the plinthes for grotesque trophies of severed human heads.
Does the pattern seem familiar? Isolation, the power of coersion, the belief that one is above the rules, an insatiable lust for violence and pleasure, a wickedly clever and strategic mind. The most interesting part, however, is that Marlow spends time with Kurtz during their return journey on the steamboat, and discovers something shocking. Kurtz loved the horrors he committed, but he hated them too: “The shade of the original Kurtz frequented the bedside of the hollow sham, whose fate it was to be buried presently in the mould of primeval earth. But both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated fought for the posession of that soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of success and power.” (Conrad, 128). Later, further on into the steamboat’s return journey, Kurtz dies. Just before he passes, Marlow walks in with a candle and Kurtz speaks to him.
“One evening coming in [the room] with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, ‘I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.’ The light was within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself to murmur ‘Oh, nonsense!’ and stood over him as if transfixed. Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn’t touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw in that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror– of and intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision,– he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath– ‘The horror! The horror!'” (Conrad, 130). Marlow then explains the signifigance of this, and this shall be the culmination of this post: “This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up. He had judged. ‘The horror!’ He was a remarkable man.” (Conrad, 132)
I wonder, then, did Hitler judge? While he sat there with his mistress holding a pistol to his head, or a bottle of cyanide in his hand, or whatever method he actually used, did he judge himself? Did he have to gusto, the cohones, the balls to sum up his actions? Did he, too, before pulling the trigger, or before throwing the bottle back, breathe out his own condemnation?
Did he too, whisper: “The horror! The horror!”
Work cited: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Penguin Books, 1902.r