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Literature Study GuidesHeart Of DarknessPart 3 Encountering Kurtz Summary

Heart of Darkness | Study Guide

Joseph Conrad

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Part 3: Encountering Kurtz

Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 3: Encountering Kurtz of Joseph Conrad's book Heart of Darkness.

Heart of Darkness | Part 3 (Encountering Kurtz) | Summary



Kurtz arrives on a stretcher. He is ill, but his voice is strong. Warriors appear from the jungle carrying weapons, and the Russian says that all Kurtz has to do is give the order and all the whites will die. The native people love Kurtz and will do whatever he asks. The pilgrims take Kurtz into a cabin.

The Russian turns to the shore, where he and Marlow see dark human shapes leaning on spears. Among them are two distinct bronze figures. One is a woman, dressed beautifully in native clothes and jewelry. Marlow describes her as "savage and superb ... ominous and stately."

The manager exits the cabin and declares Kurtz's health to be poor. The manager adds, insincerely, that they have done all they can for Kurtz. The manager says Kurtz has done more harm than good for the Company, showing a "complete want of judgment." He implies that he wants to get rid of the Russian too. The young man, sensing the danger he is in, asks Marlow to protect Kurtz's reputation and then leaves quickly.

Marlow sees a fire that night. He looks into the cabin, but Kurtz is gone. He sees a trail and realizes that Kurtz, unable to walk, is crawling into the jungle, drawn by the "heavy, mute spell of the wilderness." Marlow finds him and helps him back to the station.


The theme of hypocrisy is reinforced when the manager comes out of the cabin and tells Marlow that Kurtz has shown a want of judgment. The manager's primary concerns are wealth and exploitation, but he assumes the moral high ground here in condemning Kurtz's judgment and threatening to report it to authorities. The manager merely intends to improve his own lot by discrediting Kurtz.

Kurtz has fallen from the high-minded ideals reflected in the opening pages of his report and has acted barbarously. Marlow feels Kurtz is honest about his faults, and, after witnessing the hypocrisy elsewhere in the Company, Marlow sees the good and the bad in the other man. At the same time, Marlow is horrified with himself for taking Kurtz's side: "I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast ... the unseen presence of victorious corruption." There is a sense that corruption has beat out something better that lies in Marlow's own dark soul.

Marlow considers what causes Kurtz to return to the "forgotten and brutal instincts" of the jungle, and he finally decides it is the wilderness itself. He says the jungle draws Kurtz to the primitive roots of humanity: "the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, the drone of weird incantations." Perhaps, Marlow suggests, these ancient sounds are elements so much a part of human nature that one cannot resist them—they beguile one's soul. Marlow has an epiphany: "Being alone in the wilderness, [Kurtz's soul] had looked within itself and ... gone mad." Recognizing that the soul's final journey is to look within itself and struggle, Marlow realizes that he, too, must look within and struggle with himself. It is a difficult realization, and it causes him to break into a sweat.

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