A White Lie in the Heart of Darkness
“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, Heart of Darkness, pg112)1. After returning to Brussels, Marlow pays a visit to Kurtz’ intended and brings these final words of Kurtz with him. When asked to reveal Kurtz’ last declaration, Marlow offers this: “‘The last word he pronounced was – your name.’” (Heart, pg123). He lies.
In this situation, with the possibility existing of inflicting severe emotional damage on an already grieving soul, should Marlow have lied? Of course, the answer is neither simple nor short, and depends heavily on who is asked. The most relevant perspective naturally comes from Marlow himself. Marlow makes his feelings about lying clear early in his adventure. “You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appals me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies, – which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world – what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick…” (Heart, pp49-50). Marlow doesn’t hold much back here. He believes that lies are what is wrong with the world. That said, it seems that a third-person Marlow would severely disapprove of his actions, and would believe that he should have told the truth. This becomes even more evident after a glance at Marlow’s reaction after he does lie. “It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head.” (Heart, pg123). Marlow obviously sees his actions as in err, and is waiting for his punishment from above.
If this were all, the answer to the original question from Marlow’s perspective would be rather simple. However, there is another element that must be examined. Marlow’s original statement about lies included one very peculiar statement. He yields the fact that his distain for lies is, “not because I am straighter than the rest of us…” (Heart, pg49). Despite his extremely harsh words, Marlow actually admits to committing the very offense he speaks of. In addition, his reaction later after lying also includes the feeling that, “my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain.” (Heart, pg123). The “terrible cry…of unspeakable pain” is obviously his distain for his actions, but what about the “inconceivable triumph”? The “triumph” here is successfully avoiding having to tell Kurtz’ intended the truth, because it “would have been too dark.” (Heart, pg123). It seems Marlow is a bit of a hypocrite. He hates lies, yet admits to lying, and also recognizes the triumph when he does. This new revelation, however, does not actually change the fact that Marlow would believe that he shouldn’t have lied; it simply means that that belief wouldn’t...