Kurtz’s Downfall in Heart of Darkness

Sophocles once said, “Money: There’s nothing in the world so demoralizing as money.” Since the beginning of time, humans have associated money with tearing away people’s goodness or, for a more known example, the saying that money is the root of all evil. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Kurtz exemplifies this exact situation of becoming somewhat addicted to gaining riches and lets his darker side take control. This tragic obsession eventually leads to his character’s downfall.
Kurtz is a character who takes his success in his job and his power over the “savages” very seriously and accepts darkness into his life because of the hunger for money. Making money is like a religion to him. He uses this power in the business as an intimidation tool. Marlow recalls a conversation with a chap on the boat in which the man states, “He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and then there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased” (Conrad, 315). The people underneath Kurtz are complaisant because he had been put up so high on a pedestal and was so incredibly intimidating. Through his job, Kurtz is put into a position of power and was able to choose the path he wanted to take. Obviously, he chooses to respond to that inner darkness deep inside of him.
Kurtz is not afraid to hurt anyone who stands in his way. He abuses the “savages” with his lack of morality and takes away their native riches. His family life, with his intended, slopes downhill as he has another mistress amongst the tribe. She never knows this, but the idea and regret of it is one of the things that eventually drives Kurtz to be somewhat insane.

Marlow is extremely perplexed by Kurtz and wishes to understand him, although he does not know why. He sees what Kurtz is doing is wrong and, in a sense, I think Marlow wants to save him from himself. Marlow recognizes that Kurtz’s biggest problem is what lies within him. However, towards the end of Kurtz’s life, Marlow seems to have given up hope for him ever finding the goodness. Conrad writes:
“But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad! I had- for my sins, I suppose- to go through the ordeal of looking into it myself. No eloquence could have been so withering to one’s belief in mankind as his final burst of sincerity. He struggled with himself, too. I saw it- I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.” (325)
Marlow clearly recognizes the fact that the love of money has taken over Kurtz and his demons all come from within. Realizing this, he sees the need to do a little soul searching. He looks within himself to assure that he has not become a victim to the darkness as well.
Through a story about a search for the riches of ivory from Africa, Conrad is able to teach the reader many very important life lessons. In a way, he gives the reader an ultimatum. A person can either choose a life like Kurtz’s, a money hungry and selfish one taken over by the darkness of one’s soul, or a life of light such as Marlow’s. Hopefully after reading of Kurtz’s death during which he spoke his last words, “the horror,” the reader will see which lifestyle Conrad is encouraging.
Kurtz dies in regret for all of the horrible things he had done. Marlow sees this and knows that he cannot submit to his darkness within for fear of having the same fate. Marlow was able to learn by example of how not to end up with a life that is “hollow at the core.” I find it very ironic that even though Kurtz was in search of something so beautiful and appealing, he ends up finding death and darkness instead.
In conclusion, it is apparent what caused Kurtz’s tragic downfall. His love for money, power, and success drives him to a point of madness and, ironically, failure in life as a whole. He affects those around him, such as Marlow and the “savages”, by exemplifying his darker side. This submission to the darkness of his soul, caused by the love and hunger for money, demoralizes Kurtz’s character until his life is no longer anything of importance.

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