Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Part III, Section 2 Analysis (pages 134-145)

The confrontation between Marlow and Kurtz after he tries to crawl back into the wilderness reveals more of Kurtz's character. Marlow realizes that Kurtz is essentially possessed by the wilderness and his own insatiable appetites—so much so that he cannot bear to leave. He also realizes that because Kurtz has embraced the very "heart of darkness", he has become something almost beyond the world. Consider the following passage: " 'There was nothing either above or below him, and I knew it. [Kurtz] had kicked himself loose of the earth' " (139). Kurtz achieved this by concentrating his intelligence on himself " 'with horrible intensity' " (140).

During Kurtz's final days, Marlow at last hears his discourses and begins to understand the genius of the man. He also observes the moment of Kurtz's final epiphany, the moment his knowledge becomes complete (right before he dies): " 'Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge?' " (144). The knowledge, now complete, is terrible enough for Kurtz to utter his final words, "The horror! The horror!" (144). Marlow also later comments that Kurtz's dying stare was " 'wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness' " (145).

Directly after Kurtz dies, a swarm of flies " 'streamed upon the lamp, upon the cloth, upon our hands and faces' " (144). Flies are commonly associated with both death and the devil, and both associations are appropriate for this part of the story (remember Kurtz was said to have literally sat among the devils of the land.) This theme of terrible knowledge is further highlighted when Marlow tells his listeners, "the most you can hope from [life] is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of inextinguishable regrets' " (144-145).