In “Heart of Darkness” I would agree with Brantlinger that the tone of the novel is certainly not racist. With the setting being Africa, and Conrad depicting the native people who live there with language of the time, it can appear this way with a surface reading. However, even the cannibals are portrayed as a reserved and well grounded group in comparison to Europeans that are also on the ship. In comparison the pilgrims are a much nastier group who have little regard for anything except the money that ivory will bring them. Instead of people the jungle itself acts an unknown entity to be feared and misunderstood. According to Marlow’s account we have more to fear from the setting than any person living in it. The reason for Marlow’s fear is that the jungle will strip away the civilization out of any man who gives into the tremendous freedom that the land brings.
Out of all the beings in the Congo, Kurtz is both the most affluent and the most corrupted. Other characters describe him as God like. It seems like he has transcended his humanity unlike the lesser Kurtz like pilgrims. Marlow is drawn into this mystery and finds himself haunted instead by what he found in Kurtz. Conrad manages to avoid the traditional stereotype of a corrupt colonizer by stripping Kurtz of most human qualities. Instead the reader is left with a sickly white abomination that has become closer to the ivory he collects than true flesh. Kurtz’s outward appearance is symbolic of ivory, the bleaching of his human characteristics, and also represents how close to death this man has become. Strangely enough Kurtz still has a power of voice that draws in the natives and cultists around him. His appearance takes on a supernatural power because the voice does not fit the body that it came out of any more.
While the native cultists treat Kurtz as God, I would have to agree with them. Kurtz manages to live up to all their expectations. He carries the demeanor of a hateful God that manipulates his servants until Marlow manages to take him away from the camp. At this point though Kurtz was in bad shape before, like a God cut off from his source of prayer, Kurtz loses his strength and ambition with his loss of position. Kurtz manages to become more disturbing as he gets closer to death. Eventually Kurtz attempt to escape the ship only to have Marlow find him crawling towards his camp closer to some sort of half dead insect than any man or God. It is here that the audience gets to listen about how Kurtz had his ambition for ivory, and his intended purpose for coming to Africa. From this point Kurtz is brought back to the ship only to continue his hallucinatory trip towards death. It is only in his final moments, that Marlow witnesses what he assumes to be a final moment of clarity for Kurtz, where he only utters about “The Horror” before finally giving in and letting his degraded mind die like his body did. Out of all the ways I can take the character of Kurtz, I cannot see a man who both corrupted and was corrupted by colonialism as any type of support for racism.