“She stood up; her fair hair seemed to catch all the remaining light in a glimmer of gold. I rose too.
“‘And of all this,’ she went on, mournfully, ‘of all his promise, and of all his greatness, of his generous mind, of his noble heart, nothing remains—nothing but a memory. You and I—’
“‘We shall always remember him,’ I said, hastily.
“‘No!’ she cried. ‘It is impossible that all this should be lost—that such a life should be sacrificed to leave nothing—but sorrow. You know what vast plans he had. I knew of them too—I could not perhaps understand,—but others knew of them. Something must remain. His words, at least, have not died.’
“‘His words will remain,’ I said.
“‘And his example,’ she whispered to herself. ‘Men looked up to him,—his goodness shone in every act. His example—’
“‘True,’ I said; ‘his example too. Yes, his example. I forgot that.’
“‘But I do not. I cannot—I cannot believe—not yet. I cannot believe that I shall never see him again, that nobody will see him again, never, never, never.’
“She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching them black and with clasped pale hands across the fading and narrow sheen of the window. Never see him! I saw him clearly enough then. I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live, and I shall see her too, a tragic and familiar Shade, resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernal stream, the stream of darkness. She said suddenly very low, ‘He died as he lived.’
“‘His end,’ said I, with dull anger stirring in me, ‘was in every way worthy of his life.’
“‘And I was not with him,’ she murmured. My anger subsided before a feeling of infinite pity.
“‘Everything that could be done—’ I mumbled.
“‘Ah, but I believed in him more than anyone on earth—more than his own mother, more than—himself. He needed me! Me! I would have treasured every sigh, every word, every sign, every glance.’
“I felt like a chill grip on my chest. ‘Don’t,’ I said, in a muffled voice.
“‘Forgive me. I—I—have mourned so long in silence—in silence. . . . You were with him—to the last? I think of his loneliness. Nobody near to understand him as I would have understood. Perhaps no one to hear. . . .’
“‘To the very end,’ I said, shakily. ‘I heard his very last words. . . .’
I stopped in a fright.
“‘Repeat them,’ she said in a heart-broken tone. ‘I want—I want—something—something—to—to live with.’
“I was on the point of crying at her, ‘Don’t you hear them?’ The dusk was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a rising wind. ‘The horror! The horror!’
“‘His last word—to live with,’ she murmured. ‘Don’t you understand I loved him—I loved him—I loved him!’
“I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.
“‘The last word he pronounced was—your name.’
“I heard a light sigh, and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain. ‘I knew it—I was sure!’ . . . She knew. She was sure. I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands. It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due? Hadn’t he said he wanted only justice? But I couldn’t. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark—too dark altogether. . . .”
Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. “We have lost the first of the ebb,” said the Director, suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.
Three endings are displayed within this extract from Conrad’s novella. Aside from the actual textual ending there is the point at which Marlow finishes relaying his time spent on a Congolese colony, which forms the greater part of the narrative. There is also within Marlow’s account the moment in which he relates Colonel Kurtz’ final words to his grieving “intended”. The latter ending forms the bulk of this extract and is laced with irony: “’His end,’ said I, with a dull anger stirring in me, ‘was in every way worthy of his life.’”
It is the combination of the reaction of Kurtz’ “intended” Marlow’s reported version of events is untrue which gives rise to this pervading irony. An irony completed through his false account of Kurtz’ final word: “The last word he pronounced was – your name.” Observable in Marlow’s motivations to report falsely are certain functions demanded of the concept of endings. To some level aware of his role as story-teller or reporter during the encounter with Kurtz’s fiancé, Marlow acknowledges that by informing the bereaved of her loved one’s final moments he will completely redefine her perception of Kurtz and by extension her perception of their past experiences shared. He may either alleviate the pain of her mourning, or worsen it by souring her memories of him. Colonel Kurtz’ bereaved intended, represents the reader who requires the consolidation of feeling and emotions surrounding the ending of a significant part of her life in order to make sense out of events. Her understanding of the final moment of Kurtz’ life is vital to her understanding of the structure of it as a whole, much like the manner in which the reader approaches the text.
However, with much emotion invested she harbours a desire to be able to observe a continuation of some residual part of Kurtz’ being beyond the faint impression of his memory which is what Marlow initially offers during their conversation, “We shall always remember him.” This term “remember” reinforces the notion of looking back at something which has been concluded, yet without something more tangible to appreciate she will be unable to engage with any satisfactory retrospective point of view. In response, Marlow states that “his words will remain” offering them as something not as formless as memory, and something that can instruct directly or serve as evidence for Kurtz’ existence; even as something that can be re-experienced. During their dialogue it is clear that it is she who sets the conversational agenda and Marlow, as story teller feels obliged to address Kurtz fiancé’s need to come to terms with her loss.
However, words and memory are unable to sate her desire for a visual or physical connection to her late fiancé that by Kurtz’ death she now faces the deprivation of. This sense of loss is explored in terms of vision and touch, “‘I cannot believe that I shall never see him again’… she put out her arms as if after a retreating figure.” In contrast this connection for Marlow remains held in tact by the intensity of his experiences upon the Congo, etched upon his mind as trauma, “I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live…”
In the moment that Marlow lies there exists a notable contrast between the lightness inspired within the spirits of Kurtz’ intended upon hearing and believing this lie and the burdened state Marlow finds himself experiencing. The heaviness of the unshared truth is thus reinforced, “‘I heard a light sigh, and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain.’” At this moment their dialogue ends with Kurtz’ intended suspended in a state of symbolic expression, symbolically blinding herself from reality and truth: “‘I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands.’” For her, there is a measure of relief in that the matter has found some satisfactory conclusion; she has an answer to her question posed.
This is not so in Marlow’s case; he is left expecting a profound gesture from the universe that might inform the sense of conclusion which he desires, “‘It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due?’” His expectations of a transcendent sign are unrealised and the state of uncertainty this leaves him in is intimated by the fact he is left only able to wonder, producing further questions through use of rhetorical expression. In possession of the truth, our last image of Marlow casts him in the pose of a “meditating Budha”, further enhancing the irony of the extract: Marlow is enlightened in the sense that he has a higher level of understanding than anyone about Colonel Kurtz, but this knowledge is not accompanied by the attainment of a higher spiritual peace or transcendent state.
Heavy endings and Ambiguous endings demand further contemplation and attached to this is an inability to move on. Upon ending his tale, Marlow’s use of an ellipsis opens up a gap of silence in which the sense of uneasiness is amplified. The syntactic device captures the tone of the ending through signifying ambiguity and reads as a slow pause rather than an abrupt and clear cut end.
The concluding paragraph which follows on from this is removed from Marlow’s yarn: the account of his experiences in the Congolese colony and its aftermath. As such, the reader is placed outside the structure of this level of the narrative and this new perspective should provide a better understanding or consolidation of the events preceding. However, the images we are exposed to do nothing to instil any sense of clarity; they, in fact, work to undermine it. The maritime setting evokes connotations of travel, journey and origins as if the venture is yet to be begun. The descriptions of a “tranquil waterway” further add to the arrested anticipation of what exists beyond the ending of the text, as the reader’s eye is led towards an ominous pathetic fallacy, which traditionally occur at the beginning of texts, in that Conrad employs a description of the weather to reflect and cast an unsettling aura around what appears to be quite a foreboding destination. Thereby the reader is confronted by the possibility that there is yet more horror to be told.
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