When Kurtz attempts to escape the steamship by crawling back into the forest in part III of Heart of Darkness, he does so, Marlow believes, because of a spell of the wilderness. This spell, Marlow narrates, “seemed to draw him … by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions,” (82). Kurtz had “kicked himself loose of the earth” and was now “alone” (82).
Throughout the novel, Kurtz served as a projection of what others wished to see him as. His character, shrouded with mystery, was interpreted in vastly different ways by characters throughout. His wife intended, for example, believed that “It was impossible to know him and not to admire him,” and she maintained that Kurtz’ last spoken words were her name (91). Her beliefs about Kurtz seem most out of touch with the truth, yet Marlow concedes that she did, perhaps, know Kurtz better than anyone (91).
If Kurtz serves mostly as a projection of the other characters, then Marlow’s opinions towards him could only be a projection, as well. Indeed, when Marlow views Kurtz as he is dying, he sees that, “His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines,” (85). The darkness that Marlow sees, and his belief that Kurtz is allured by the awakening of brutal instincts and memories of monstrous passions, may be no more than ideas that Marlow is engaging/battling with.
This reading of Heart of Darkness gives us more insight into the philosophical struggles of Marlow. While Marlow admits that, “Sometimes [Kurtz] was contemptibly childish” (84) he still views Kurtz as dealing with deep philosophical struggles. Applying these struggles to Marlow, we see him as facing the horrors and injustices of maintaining/imposing societal values — in conflict with the darkness and depravity of the soul, and the capacity to commit terrifying acts.