What’s in a name?

“…to this day I am unable to say what was Kurtz’s profession, whether he ever had any—which was the greatest of his talents.” (67)

The last pages of the book focus on the image of Kurtz and who Kurtz was. Business men come by to speak with Marlow(66), Kurtz’s cousin(66-7), and a journalist(67). They all give us different impressions of who Kurtz was, but these interpretations of the man himself seem appear somewhat incompatible with the character I read; meaning the brief scenes where Kurtz was alive. I’m not suggesting that it was impossible for Kurtz to be all those things, but that the image of Kurtz is still incomplete. I don’t feel like I know who Kurtz is, in the same way that none of the characters seem to know him, even his wife, who claims “I knew him best.”(69) She deludes herself into believing that Kurtz’s last words were her name. (71)

Conrad is commenting on the inability of one human being to ever truly understand another one. As Marlow says, “I knew him as well as it is possible for one man to know each other.” (69) Of course, Kurtz’s last words are open to interpretation as to his own perception of himself aside from parallels and metaphors on colonialism. What exactly does “The horror! The horror!” (64) mean? His own horrors committed? Perhaps horrors witnessed? Horrors that humanity is capable of? However, the questions themselves lead back to the times in which Kurtz lived, and still leave Kurtz identity unresolved; with Kurtz being a character with a name, it is interesting to find that his identity is left in many ways ambiguous.

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