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CHAPTER III (continued)
KURTZ'S ESCAPE. DEPARTURE
That night Marlow wakes up remembering the young Russian's vague warning: "I don't want any harm to come to
these whites here...." On an impulse he gets up to have a look around. The fires of Kurtz's army are flickering in the
At once Marlow feels overpowered by a "pure abstract terror" far beyond any fear for his own skin. Obviously the presence of Kurtz has taken on a deep meaning for him. But he also knows that the boat is in deadly danger. If Kurtz reaches the camp of the warriors, he could order them to attack. Marlow takes off after him without waking anybody else-he wants to deal with Kurtz alone. In fact, he tells us that he was "jealous of sharing with any one the peculiar blackness of that experience."
Why has Kurtz's presence become so important to Marlow, and why does he feel that he has to deal with Kurtz all by himself? Partly because in the fight he's about to put up for Kurtz's soul, he'll be looking deep within his own. Marlow's voyage into the heart of the jungle has also been a voyage into the heart of darkness within himself, a journey into the dark depths of his own personality. All the way upriver, Marlow has been aware of the call of the darkness, just as he's been aware of the beating of the drums. The manager and the pilgrims are like the fool Marlow said is "too dull even to know" the powers of darkness are assaulting him (II, 5). But Kurtz, like Marlow, heard the call, and it overpowered him. Clearly Marlow sees a little bit of himself in Kurtz, and it frightens him.
There's an air of madness in his pursuit. Marlow has been growing increasingly
unstable. His mind wanders to various unrelated images, and as he circles
around to cut off Kurtz's escape route, he's even giggling to himself.
He hears the monotonous beat of the African drum and confuses it with
his own heartbeat. Some readers regard this moment as the climax of Marlow's
inner journey, the moment when he perceives that the darkness is not outside
him, but inside. But unlike Kurtz, Marlow has the restraint to resist
its call, even when the call is coming from within himself.
They are about 30 yards from the nearest fire. Kurtz is crawling on all fours like an animal toward a witch-doctor, wearing the horns of an animal-an image that sums up his reversion to beastlike savagery. When Kurtz hears Marlow coming, he stands up, still seemingly unreal-"pale, indistinct, like a vapor." But his voice is as usual real and strong, and if he shouts it could be all over for Marlow.
Kurtz's attempt to get back to the tribe, Marlow tells us, isn't a conscious choice but an instinctual one. The wilderness has him under its spell, and something inside him-"the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, the memory of gratified and monstrous passions"- is pulling him back. But while his instinct is drawing him back, Marlow tries to appeal to his other side, his intellect. "Believe me or not, his intelligence was perfectly clear-concentrated, it is true, upon himself with horrible intensity, yet clear; and therein was my only chance." He has to figure out a way to lure Kurtz back to the boat, and he hits on the idea of stroking his vanity, his desire for fame and glory, the "horrible intensity" of his egoism. As Kurtz mutters about his "immense plans," the "great things" he was going to accomplish, Marlow tells him he'll be "utterly lost" if he doesn't return, but that if he does, "Your success in Europe is assured."
"And I wasn't arguing with a lunatic, either," Marlow says, verifying the Russian's earlier claim that Kurtz couldn't be mad. But he also knows that beyond his sane intelligence Kurtz has another side: "his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself, and, by heavens! I tell you, it had gone mad." And his soul is what's drawing him irresistibly back to the darkness. But though he has "a soul that knew no restraint," he understandsintellectually-the horror of what's happened to him. Remember the Russian's explanation: "He hated all this, and somehow he couldn't get away." Now, when Marlow makes his appeal to Kurtz's intellect, Kurtz has what he needs to triumph over his brute instincts, his mad soul-the "warning voice of a kind neighbour... whispering of public opinion," as Marlow had put it earlier (II, 5). He wants to overcome himself, and so he listens. And he returns to the boat.
Clearly Marlow's exhaustion is more than physical. It isn't just Kurtz's soul he's been grappling with, but his own as well. But once again his tasks as skipper intervene to keep him from looking too deeply into himself. The boat leaves, with Kurtz aboard, at noon the next day. (The struggle had taken place near the opposite hour, midnight. Appropriately, the contest for Kurtz's soul happens in the heart of the night, the heart of darkness; and Marlow, having won, leaves with Kurtz in the heart of the day.) The African army has gathered ominously on the banks of the river. When Marlow asks Kurtz if he understands their wild cries, he replies with a mysterious smile-"Do I not?"- intimating that it isn't just the language he understands, but the savagery as well.
Marlow pulls the string of the steam whistle to frighten the warriors away. The Africans flee in terror, with the exception of Kurtz's savage mistress, who "did not so much as flinch, and stretched tragically her bare arms after us over the sombre and glittering river." (Remember this image; it will recur at the end of the novel.)