In Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness we see various attitudes toward morality. It is extremely difficult, maybe impossible, to deduce the exact endorsement of morality that Conrad intended. Conrad provides his readers with several instances where the interpretation of morality is circumstantial, relative, and even "indeterminable." One finds many situations in the novel that lie somewhere between morality, immorality, and amorality. A few examples from the novel that illustrate this idea are: the depiction of Kurtz as revealed through Marlowe, Marlowe's own actions and thoughts, and the Kurtz' death scene.
In the case of Kurtz, Conrad seems to give us blatant amorality. Conrad constantly suggests that the issue of morality with Kurtz is moot, as he has transcended society's, western society's, stringent standards of morality. The Russian that Marlowe meets just after entering Kurtz' domain explains to Marlowe that "you can't judge Mr. Kurtz as you would an ordinary man." The Russian believes that Kurtz has transcended all "ordinary" value systems. Marlowe confirms this idea in his enchantment with Kurtz when he and the manager of the steamboat converse about the nature of Kurtz' actions. Marlowe asks the Manager if he thinks the methods of Kurtz are unsound, to which the Manager quickly replies in the affirmative. However, Marlowe cannot exactly concur with this assessment of Kurtz' actions as he sees in them "no method at all." The Manager, an unreliable source of information as he is a biased character of the western persuasion, sees Kurtz as immoral, likely because he sees Kurtz as greedy. Whereas Marlowe is completely unable to relate to any sort of moral system, if indeed the...
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...ne the value other moralities. So, in the case of Kurtz, morality is not moot. Instead of being judged, Kurtz now makes the judgement, an act of a moral being.
In conclusion, just as Conrad's narrator says, the story is hazy. The theme of morality, as Ian Watt put it, is "especially difficult to decipher." Conrad toys with the characters' value systems. As we can easily see, they are filled with uncertainty. Marlowe and Kurtz undergo changes in their view of morality, Marlowe, perhaps, never arriving at a tangible destination. These shifts and changes make it impossible to arrive at the exact endorsement of morality, if indeed there is one, which Conrad intended.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York and London: Norton. 1988.
Watt, Ian. Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P. 1979.
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