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. Kurtz’s last words headline the back cover.
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.
Even if you think you know its ending, 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. That’s Marlow. His words also are remarkable.
Firstly because he presents himself as one who tells the truth. ‘You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie. There is a taint of death in lies—which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world.’
But after Marlow blows out a candle and leaves Kurtz’s body, he visits a young woman in mourning. It’s Kurtz’s fiancé and she knows Marlow was last to see the man she loved. She pleads with Marlow to share his last word.
When a character has a big choice–one they can’t go back on–it makes a good story. Marlow must either tell the fiance the horrible truth, or invent something that will save the memory of her love.
The moment of decision felt to Marlow like his destruction. “It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head.”
Then, to the young woman, he replies,
“The last word he pronounced was–your name.”