Tag Archives: Joseph Conrad

The last word he pronounced was…

Many individuals reduce books or movies to quotes that over time have become cliches. Publishers do it. Flip The Heart of Darkness by Penguin Classics and the back cover spoils it with Kurtz’s last words of horror.

Quote repetition or scene reminiscing can lead some individuals to think they’re familiar with a book or movie–even if they haven’t read or seen it.

Mention Deliverance to someone who was a young adult in the 1970s. They’ll likely mimic the tune of “Dueling Banjos,” though they never saw the film.

I say read The Heart of Darkness. Let Conrad’s character, Marlow, take you slowly up the Congo to the dim, muddy place that seems “of the first ages.” Take the trip and experience the full story’s richness and humor in addition to its culmination of darkness and horror.

Many recite the final words that Kurtz “cried in a whisper,” but few quote the person who heard Kurtz speak his last.

Marlow’s words are also remarkable.

After he blows out a candle and leaves the cabin, a whole year after, Marlow visits Kurtz’s mourning fiance. She knows he was last to see the man she loved and she pleads for Kurtz’s last word.

When a character has to make a big choice–one they can’t go back on–it makes a good story. Marlow must tell the fiance either the horrible truth or something that will save the memory of her love.

He first describes to his audience the gravity of the moment.

“It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head.”

Then, he lies to her.

” ‘The last word he pronounced was–your name.’ “

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