Marlow's Transformation in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

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Marlow's Transformation in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

After returning from a voyage in the Congo of Africa, Joseph Conrad said "Before the Congo I was a mere animal," and implied that only a select few of the rest of society have risen above the animal state. Conrad had a bout with malaria, and while recovering went through radical changes in thinking. He began to despise his fellow Belgians, and for a time he was furious with them for their very existence. Leonard Dean's collection of Conrad's letters show the writer's scorn of regular society after his journey:

"Everything is repellent to me here. Men and things, but especially men...all have a gift for getting on my nerves." (103) Conrad eventually accepted himself as
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"Kurtz is the grail at the end of the quest...and only Marlow--the faithful pilgrim--experiences an illumination." (181) He is searching for his grail, but on the way he finds out more about himself, and reveals this in his story. Kurtz is a shabby grail to behold, and arguably not worth the effort it took to retrieve him, except that he can offer Marlow a brief glimpse at his nature. "The grail is an effulgence of light, and it gives an illumination to those who can see it." (176) This light isn't always what the persuer thought it would be, and Marlow's discovery is bittersweet.

Thale supported Kurtz's pronouncement of his own state:

And the discovery of the self is the discovery of one's freedom. Away from the grooves that society provides for keeping us safely in a state of subsisting, we can discover that we are free to be, to do anything, good or evil. For the mystic it means the freedom to love God. For Kurtz it means the freedom to become his own diabolical god. This radical freedom as it exists in Kurtz seems to Marlow both exalting and revolting. Exalting, because it makes man human, revolting because in Kurtz it is so perverted and so absolute as to exceed all human limits and become inhuman. (178)

Marlow triumphs over Kurtz because he has restraint and humility.

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