Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness
by Joseph Conrad

Marlow’s Modest White Lie

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the definition of the verb to lie is to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive. In the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Marlow lies to Kurtz’s Intended. When asked by Kurtz’s Intended what Kurtz’s last words were, Marlow replies “‘The last word he pronounced was – your name’” (75). Marlow lies to Kurtz’s Intended by telling her that Kurtz’s last name was her name, while Marlow knows that Kurtz’s true last words were “‘The horror! The horror!’” (68). Why does Marlow lie to Kurtz's Intended about Kurtz's last words? Why not tell her the truth, or tell her that Kurtz had no last words, instead of confirming her sentimental ideas?

Although Marlow claims he “hate[s], detest[s], and can’t bear a lie” (29), he was in a situation where telling the truth would have caused a severe amount of grief and pain. According to Marlow “There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies...” (29). However, Marlow lied to Kurtz’s Intended for the sake of her, not himself. Marlow did make an untrue statement, however he did it with a good intent. Marlow’s lie can be viewed as a good deed. He merely allowed others to continue to believe an untruth. The lie was told to Kurtz’s Intended so that the image of her dead fiancé would not be shattered. She has waited over two years for Kurtz to return home from Africa. During this time, she created an image of him in her mind. She is certain that Kurtz is a man to be admired and that “‘Men looked up to him – his goodness shone in ever act’” (75). Upon hearing this, Marlow becomes furious on the inside, knowing that telling her the truth about Kurtz would destroy her. However, Marlow knew that in this situation, the truth would have benefited no one. By avoiding the truth, Marlow saved an already depressed woman from even more pain and misery. Thus, Marlow is justified in lying to Kurtz’s Intended...
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