A single moment in a novel is sometimes hard for a reader to consider significant after a quick read. However, a closer look reveals the deliberate choices Joseph Conrad made while writing The Heart of Darkness to convince the reader of how Kurtz has been consumed and overtaken by savagery. The broken up sentences in this section create a feeling of incompleteness, and the asyndeton builds up tension to the climax of the moment: the reveal of Kurtz to be the favorite of a personified wilderness. The ivory ball simile and sensual imagery further characterize Kurtz’s loss of physical and psychological humanity. All these elements of Conrad’s writing show how Kurtz will never be able to escape the menacing grasp of the wilderness and is an example of losing yourself to your primitive instincts.
Conrad’s deliberate use of multiple literary techniques adds to the complexity of this moment. The moment begins with a personification of wilderness as a sort of authority figure who holds power over Kurtz. The image of Kurtz being patted on the head is a way for Conrad to show the reader that the once mighty Kurtz has become submissive and powerless when confronted by the wilderness. The image of the wilderness “taking and embracing” Kurtz and then “consuming his flesh” shocks the reader by first creating trust between Kurtz and the wilderness, who is shielding Kurtz’s inner savagery, and then wilderness betraying Kurtz by taking his soul. Also, the simile in the first sentence draws a parallel between the dehumanization of Kurtz and an ivory ball that symbolizes the trivial notion of placing the worth of the Congo on material things. In addition, when Conrad says that the wilderness has made it so that Kurtz has “been withered”, this diction reinforces the idea of submission in the reader’s mind, as something withered is often directly associated with something that has been dehydrated, or in Kurtz’s case stolen. The wilderness has stolen Kurtz’s humanity and taken it for itself. Kurtz has been away from society for so long that his thirst for civilization has not been fulfilled and he has therefore been deprived of his humanity.
In addition to the use of various literary techniques, Conrad uses syntax to build up the image of the wilderness consuming Kurtz piece by piece. The broken sentences reflect Kurtz’s torn nature at this point in the novel, the asyndeton creates tension, and the final short sentence gives the reader a sense of false certainty over Kurtz’s fate. The use of an extended broken sentence throughout the moment shows Kurtz’s neverending and difficult struggle to keep his humanity. The asyndeton speeds up the pace of the moment and creates suspense towards what the reader thinks must be a horrific conclusion, which is why the last sentence is so impactful. Though the last sentence seems less chaotic than the one before, the initial stream of consciousness represents Kurtz’s ability to think freely.
Overall, this moment plays a significant role in the novel’s overall theme of the deep-rooted corruption of the soul as a result of the exposure to the wilderness and imperialism. This moment is a prominent example of the extent to which Kurtz was exploited and corrupted by imperialist powers at play. It represents a transition to the final part of the book in which Marlow realizes that Kurtz is not the idol he had made him out to be. Rather, he is merely a shell of his former self, a shadow, and a tainted human. It is also a continuation of Marlow’s sense of disillusionment immediately following the death of the Helmsman. Conrad’s deliberate use of concrete diction and asyndeton, along with his use of personification, exaggerated sentences, and imagery, all highlight the importance of this moment in the novel’s overall commentary on the irreality of the human condition.
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