Many individuals reduce books or movies to quotes that over time have become cliches. Publishers do this too. Penguin Classics starts its back cover of “The Heart of Darkness” 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, for example, “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.
To read “The Heart of Darkness” (1899) is to let Conrad’s character, Marlow, take you slowly up the Congo to the dim, muddy place that seems “of the first ages.” Taking the trip, you experience the full story’s richness and humor in addition to its culmination of darkness and horror.
The final words that Kurtz “cried in a whisper,” can be recited by many. Fewer can quote the only person with Kurtz when he spoke his last. What Marlow says at the story’s end is also remarkable.
After he blows out the candle and leaves the cabin (a whole year after), Marlow chooses to visit Kurtz’s mourning fiance. She knows that Marlow was the last one to see the man she loved. She pleads with him to tell her Kurtz’s last word.
When a character has to make a big choice–one they can’t go back on–that’s key to a good story. Marlow either needs to tell the fiance the truth, or he needs to make something up.
“It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head.”
That’s what Marlow feels…when he says to the fiance,
” ‘The last word he pronounced was–your name.’ “