Purging the Ghost of the Past

Musa Al-Halool

Abstract


Upon careful examination, Heart of Darkness reads like an interior monologue, with Marlow telling the whole story in practically one breath, while his foursome audience remains, for all practical purposes, entirely passive throughout Marlow's narration of his African jeremiad. Telling the story in retrospect has the quality of mediating the events of the past through the narrator's present frame of mind. In other words, the whole past is filtered through the prism of the present. This allows Marlow unlimited leverage to edit this past, modify it, alter it, reinvent it, comment on it, and interpret it to his own advantage.

 

Marlow's obsession with and apologetic attitude towards the evil Kurtz is another problematic issue in the novella. Since Kurtz is dead according to Marlow's own account and, therefore, belongs to the past, then Marlow's present justification is not so much slanted towards him who is long since dead as it is towards him who is still living. So, apparently Marlow has a vested interest that goes beyond the customary bond and sympathy between two company employees. Can it perhaps be that Kurtz, in the final analysis, is an alter ego of Marlow? Or an embodiment of a dark phase in Marlow's life in the Congo—a phase that he now prefers to suppress and deny? These questions, however unassumingly raised, tend to vitiate the realistic existence of a person named Kurtz. And indeed, there is in the novella enough textual evidence that lends reasonable credence to this argument.


Keywords


Heart of Darkness, the uncanny, alter ego, Marlow-Kurtz imbroglio, catharsis by narration.

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