Heart of Darkness Part 3 Summary

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

In part 3 of Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' we learn more of the story of Kurtz, a man who operates without any apparent restraint. He rules over the natives, plunders the land, and burdens Marlow with keeping his papers and his memory.

Previous Sections

How shall Marlow reconcile with the face of evil? Will he become a force for good, spreading the word of the terrors of his company or become a terror himself? We'll find out in the final part of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

In the previous two parts, the main character Marlow continues to narrate his experiences to the sailors. He has traveled up the river on a steamer, bound for an outpost to gather up a coworker, Kurtz, and bring him home. As they drew nearer to Kurtz, Marlow and the others found wood to fuel the steamer stacked for them and a cryptic note urging caution. They met a rogue ivory trader, a Russian, who has left the wood and the note. The Russian claimed Kurtz has enlarged his mind.

Kurtz Revealed

In part three, the Russian tells more of his encounters with Kurtz. He says that he once spent the whole night listening to Kurtz talk. 'He made me see things - things,' he says. The Russian reveals that he has nursed Kurtz back to health twice. Kurtz, he says, would go exploring for days and return with ivory and other goods.

'To speak plainly, he raided the country,' Marlow says. The Russian acknowledges that this statement is true, and he reveals that Kurtz got the tribe to help him. 'They adored him,' he said.

When Marlow finally sees Kurtz's house through his binoculars, he is astonished. Marlow is surprised to find that the ornamental orbs he thought were adorning the posts surrounding the house are actually human heads. 'I had expected to see a knob of wood there, you know,' Marlow says. 'I returned deliberately to the first I had seen - and there it was, black, dried, sunken, with dosed eyelids - a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole, and, with the shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of the teeth, was smiling, too, smiling continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber.'

Marlow sees the heads as a sign that there is something lacking in Kurtz, perhaps an inability to restrain his basest desires.

Kurtz Appears

As Marlow is attempting to take in the true nature of the man, Kurtz appears. He is borne on a stretcher carried by natives, and he claims to be happy to see Marlow. It is clear that Kurtz has known that Marlow, or someone like him, would be coming to remove him. Kurtz is taken onto the boat, but it is obvious that he is very ill.

During the night, Marlow realizes that Kurtz is no longer aboard the anchored boat. He finds Kurtz in the brush and escorts him back. All the while, Kurtz is protesting that he had great plans.

All night, the natives chant, and Marlow seems to be falling under Kurtz's spell as well. As the boat sets out, Marlow pulls the ship's whistle to disperse the crowd of shouting natives. Only one bystander remains: Kurtz's native mistress.

Marlow remains enthralled with Kurtz, 'his choice of nightmares.' Kurtz hands his personal papers over to Marlow. Marlow will carry the memory of Kurtz forever, and he seems compelled to tell this story to the men aboard the ship on the Thames.

Kurtz's Death

Kurtz dies aboard the steamer and is buried unceremoniously along the river. Marlow hears Kurtz's final words, 'The horror! The horror!'

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