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Heart of Darkness - Marlow's Lies


A lie is an untruth. It can be a false statement or a statement 
left unsaid which causes someone to be misled. In life lies are told
for many different reasons. In fiction they thicken the plot. In 
Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Marlow dislikes lies and therefore
only tells two, both in extraordinary circumstances, and the lies show 
the following about Marlow: even though he has been touched by evil, 
he is still a good man himself; that he never actually tells a lie, he 
lets others continue to believe what they already believe; and that 
this helps him justify the lies. Marlow, in the middle of his story, 
interupts himself to say "You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a 
lie." He does not think he is better than the rest of the world. Lies 
simply appal him. Marlow feels there is a "taint of death, and a 
flavor of mortality in lies." Lying makes him feel "miserable and 
sick, like biting something rotten would do." Since he feels this way, 
he would only tell a lie in extraordinary circumstances. The first lie 
was told by Marlow in extraordinary circumstances. It was told because 
he had a notion it would somehow be of help to Mr. Kurtz. The lie was 
to allow the brick maker to think he had more influence in the company 
than he actually had. This lie would help Kurtz in two ways. Firstly 
it would help Marlow to get the rivets he needed to fix the boat, and 
that would provide Kurtz with a means of communication, or a way out 
of the jungle. Secondly it would provide Kurtz with an ally who was 
perceived as influential. Marlow knew that others were jealous of the 
success of Mr. Kurtz. Some saw him as the next "Director of the 
Company," and some were trying to find a reason to hang him. If Marlow 
was considered powerful, he might be able to help Mr. Kurtz. This is
an extraordinary reason for telling a lie. 

 The second lie was also told in extraordinary circumstances. It is 
told to "the intended" so that the image of her dead fiance would not 
be destroyed. She has waited at least two years for her lover to 
return from Africa, and now he is dead. During this time she has built 
his image up in her mind. To her Kurtz is a man to be admired. She 
feels it would be "impossible not to love him." She was proud to have 
been engaged to Kurtz, and would be shocked to learn of the things he 
had done. Marlow had to decide if he should tell her the truth about 
Kurtz and cause her even greater grief, or let her go on believing 
that he was a good man. This is an extraordinary circumstance, and 
thus one in which Marlow could tell a lie. The significance of this 
lie is that it would serve no purpose to tell the truth, so Marlow 
does not. Kurtz is dead and to tell the truth would only hurt an 
innocent woman. She had no idea that her fiance had an evil heart. She 
thought that he was loved and admired by everyone who knew him. If she 
learned of the things he had done, it would destroy her. Marlow showed 
his good side by not telling her the truth about Kurtz. This is a 
suitable ending to the work because it means that even though Marlow 
has met a man with a "Heart of Darkness," and that even after facing 
his own darkness, he has come out of the jungle unchanged, for the 
most part. He is still a good human being with feelings and a sense of 
right and wrong. Marlow never actually vocalized a lie. He simply 
allowed others to continue to believe an untruth. First the brick 
maker thought Marlow was more influential than he actually was, and
Marlow allowed him to continue to believe that. Secondly the intended 
thought her fiance was a good man, and Marlow allowed her to continue 
to believe that. Since he never actually vocalized a lie, he was 
better able to justify them to himself.

Marlow dislikes lies, and only tells them in extraordinary 
circumstances. When he does lie, it is for the sake of others, not
himself. This shows that he is a kind human being. It is unfortunate 
that all lies are not told with such noble purpose. The world would be 
a better place if they were.


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