Everyday heroes are people that can make your day memorable. This could be through making you feel good about yourself. It could be doing something to humor you. Or, as is the most common example, performing a selfless act of kindness. An everyday hero is someone that on a daily basis defeats the “heart of darkness” within each of us. They do this by remaining positive and setting a fine example for the rest of us to remain positive ourselves.
Mr. Kurtz, the supposed antagonist of the tale, gave in to the “heart of darkness.” It was first of all physically, then mentally, and from these infirmities he was never able to recover. Kurtz does not seem to exhibit the qualities that allowed Marlow to succeed in the end. Yes, Kurtz had grand intelligence, many big ideas, and originally very good intentions. But he lacked the integrity to keep his brilliant mind from being invaded by the “heart of darkness.”
Integrity is such an important part of a person, and it is that integrity which allowed Marlow to outlast Kurtz. Kurtz, like so many other unrestrained brilliant minds, became swallowed up by the darker side of his self. He then performed numerous atrocities. Kurtz became quite self-centered, as he became almost sort of a god to the tribes, and he used it to his advantage. Only in the end does Kurtz truly realize how corrupted he has become. He dies cursing the atrocities he committed, now unable to do anything about them.
Marlow's Optimism and Constitution
Marlow never gave in, though there were numerous times at which he could have. Marlow was indeed blessed with a strong constitution, but then again he was not exposed to the jungle as long as many of them had been. Indeed, he felt the emotional strain, but rather than being attracted to the evil, he was outright revolted by it. Marlow was absolutely disgusted with what he was witnessing. He had no intention of joining this terrible invasion, and no intention of joining in the obvious exploitation of the land and the people both.
Fortunately for Marlow, he was able to stick to his tasks and did not let his own disgust with the situation idle him. Marlow becomes the hero of this story because he is able to retain a positive attitude throughout the journey. In his epic case, he mostly remains positive for the sake of his own sanity.
From the way Marlow tells the beginning of the story, it is not difficult to gather that he was a young man who indeed had an optimistic viewpoint on life. Being a hero depends so much on retaining positivity. He was able to keep a connection with his civilized self; he was able to hold what was good and just in him together, a great integrity that Kurtz apparently lacked. In a more literal sense, Marlow is a hero by simply “winning” in the end and not being consumed by the primitive wilderness. It is the depths of the Congo itself that become the true villain of the novel.
The trip down the Congo River sounds like your typical adventure story. But through Mr. Marlow’s narrative, we learn that it was a journey that affected him deeply. In both physical and metaphorical respects, he lives his way through a nightmare. He journeys into a primordial land where basic instinct thrives.
Only by remaining single-mindedly focused on his tasks at hand is Marlow able to retain his composure and faculties. This includes repairing the boat, captaining it, and proceeding on his mission to retrieve Mr. Kurtz. At times, he is under at considerable strain.
Marlow saw Kurtz, who people once considered to be a great man, reduced to this broken and sick, both in body and mind, shadow of a man. All around him, people were so very corrupted. But with his integrity, Marlow would just not give in to the corruption around him.
A Matter of Integrity
Sometimes, we can find it hard enough to stay cool in civilized society as it is. If we were to be far removed from what we know as civilization and to be put in a world of lawlessness and chaos, the “dark side” within each of us would be extremely difficult to resist. It takes tremendous integrity to stick to your guns and remain focused in such an alien world where it is so easy to give in to your darker side and lose all civilized manner forever.
Marlow’s great integrity keeps him together in his case, but even with all his integrity, he is forever a changed man from the epic journey. Such hardships must be overcome for one to be remembered as a hero. Marlow truly overcome some great calls of instinct to which just about any other human being would fall victim.
As great as Kurtz was, he could never be a hero because he succumbed to evil. In Marlow, Conrad has created a wonderful hero; he is a man of great character, and indeed his story is a fairly memorable one. If we can put ourselves in his shoes, we can learn a little bit more about ourselves.
Like Marlow said himself of the journey, “It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me – and into my thoughts. It was sombre enough, too – and pitiful – not extraordinary in any way – not very clear either.” Even though he found it impossible to put his exact thoughts into words, the story itself he tells is in a grand one. Indeed, it is an epic hero story.
A hero, through all of his or her hardships, comes to better understand people and human nature itself. It is through hero stories that we learn so many things; it is through such stories that one generation passes on their values. Through Marlow’s example, we can see how being focused on your tasks and staying true to yourself can get you through all sorts of difficulties, even when faced with horrors as monumental as Marlow’s experience in the Congo.
But even the most “good” of men are attracted to power. Marlow found that he liked Kurtz quite a bit, even as corrupted as he had allowed himself to become. Kurtz became very selfish and with all the power he had gained, with no one to stop him, who could blame him? Marlow and Kurtz certainly contrast so much. It is interesting that Kurtz had come to the Congo with quite a bit of positivity himself, but he just could not hang on. Kurtz becomes the pathetic figure and Marlow ultimately is the hero.
Marlow, The Everyday Hero?
Marlow’s story is one that needs to be read delicately to fully appreciate today. While Conrad’s language is effective, it can prove dense and a verbose in many spots. If you read closely enough, however, tidbits of wisdom will stand out to you. Within his impressive narrative are little insights into everyday existence, quotable and so truthful.
Heart of Darkness is a fine piece of work that will make one ponder about the darker aspects of human nature. It’s hard not to appreciate the book in its subject matter. There is such a fascinating wealth of insights contained within this book’s pages. This book is a great example of not having to love a book to get something valuable out of it.
Marlow is, in the simplest terms, an everyday hero. There is nothing tremendously special about him, other than his incredible gift of expression. He is just like everyone else in life, just living day to day, getting whatever he possibly can out of every moment. He keeps himself together by sticking to his tasks and remaining true to his conscience. He does not have to agree with what’s going on to do his job; sometimes, that is just how it has to be.
After many journeys, Marlow becomes a great storyteller, doing his best to relate the complete essence of a tremendous experience; one Marlow refers to as almost being a “dream-sensation.” Marlow really is just a fellow human being with a heck of a story to tell, and it is well worth listening to, because from it, there is so much to learn.