The Downfall of Kurtz
Enveloped within Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Kurtz fails for many reasons and in many ways. Kurtz's failure is especially tragic because he once had the potential for great success. He was an eloquent, powerful, and persuasive speaker who at one point was adored by all the inhabitants of the heart of darkness, the great and mysterious jungle. Everyone from the innocent natives to the administration of his corrupt company was in awe of him. Why then, did someone with such amazing promise fail?
Even from the beginning, Kurtz was made out to be an icon, an idol. To Marlow, he was the only thing that made sense in the company, on a journey, in a wilderness full of confusion. The company hailed him as their biggest asset and success. He delivered massive amounts of ivory to them and they liked that very much. Kurtz represented many things to many people. In class, we described him as a representation of the wilderness, the voice, a superior God-like being, an imperialist who was a symbol of colonization, and a symbol of the jungle. We also considered him a symbol of power, dehumanized, unhuman, a rule-breaker who had to face his consequences, and a once-great man who was trapped somewhere in the layers of the Heart of Darkness. Late in the book, several characters mention all the things that Kurtz could have been, his great potential. Kurtz's cousin came to Marlow wishing to know about Kurtz's last moments. He told Marlow that Kurtz had once been a great musician (Conrad, pg. 71). Later, a journalist told him that Kurtz had the potential to be an excellent politician (Conrad, pg. 71). It was also said that he would have been a splendid lawyer. No one could deny that whatever he was, and whatever he did, as his cousin said, Kurtz was "a universal genius" (Conrad, pg 157). Kurtz also possessed a “gift of expression.” (Stewart, 361) He had an uncanny ability to persuade and influence people with his articulate way of communicating. Perhaps it was his extreme promise that lead to his failure. The higher the height you fall from the greater the fall. He was not the only one in the jungle that failed, but his fall was worse because he had the most potential. All the characters reacted to their new environment differently. A common bond was that all of them were desperately hanging on to anything familiar. In the process of keeping up their civilized dress and culture, most of them lost their humanity. The manager was continuously described as nothing more than ordinary, thus it was not shocking to learn of the corruption that he encouraged in the company.
Mr. Kurtz was the "chief of the inner station" (Conrad, pg. 28). He was "in charge of a trading post, a very important one, in the true ivory country." Kurtz sent in "as much ivory as all the others put together" (Conrad, pg. 22). The company described him as the "best agent, an exceptional man, of the...