Heart of Darkness: the Fates

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AP Literature and Composition
October 28, 2012

21. Marlow meets the three Fates during his journey, Explain and connect the allusion to both of his visits to Brussels. Discuss how the role of the third Fate influences his second visit. Why could it be said that the third Fate is indeed the source of death for Kurtz? What does Marlow’s escape from the third Fate suggest about his conversation with her? How does the use of this allusion contribute to the novel?

In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad’s use of the allusion to the Fates questions whether people and civilization are products of their actions or, rather, a more powerful external force. The wise yet indifferent knitting women reappear when Marlow faces a choice, emanating a foreboding darkness and introducing his fate. Clotho, the weaver, wears her white crown—her symbol of dominance—knitting the future. Atropos, the inevitable, selects her victim’s manner of death, leading them to the doors of death. The third sister Lachesis, the allotter, chooses the lot in life he will have. Though Kurtz had chosen his own destruction, Clothos had knit his path; Atropos had led him; Lachesis—his Intended—has damned him. The goddesses of fate became goddesses of death, symbols of birth at the beginning of the men’s journey, but also of the death of their former selves. The presence of the fates illustrates that free will is only an illusion, because our lives are only the fulfillment of an already knit destiny.

The knitting ladies appear first as the traditional embodiments of fate: children of the underworld who directed the events on earth. The Fates would appear three nights after a child’s birth, assigning them to good or evil. As a mythic hero, Marlow is restless. When he gets his appointment he is reborn, filled with the hope of adventure. In forty-eight hours, he leaves to present himself to his employers. The next day, three days after his rebirth, he encounters two of the three fates. They appear in...
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