The Antichrist is quite a peculiar and mysterious character of the Bible, appearing at the end times of man as an asset of the Devil, tasked with leading many away from the light of God. Though referenced only a handful of times in the Bible, the speculation of this ominous creature is broad and extensive, including many writings of what he may be like, when he will arrive on Earth, and what he will do. Heart of Darkness yields itself to a wide variety of interpretations, one of which is interpreting the story to be that of the Antichrist due to the countless evil descriptions within this dark recounting of travelling to Africa.
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The story depicts a man, Kurtz, who transcends those above him and has acquired such a following for his eloquence and hellish ways that his traits mirror those of the foretold Angel of Darkness. The nature of the characters in addition with the story as a whole present Heart of Darkness to merely be an interpretation of the Antichrist’s reign upon the Earth.
To begin, the setting and various locations are described in hellish or dark manners, suggesting the ominous presence of both the end times and the Antichrist. Many descriptions of Africa by Marlow reinforce its similarities to that of Hell, which is where the Antichrist dwells before entering Earth. In detailing the beginnings of his adventure, Marlow describes Africa by saying, “”It had become a place of darkness. But there was in it one river especially … resembling an immense snake uncoiled”” (Conrad 5-6). The key notion in this excerpt is that Marlow identifies Africa as a “”place of darkness.”” Much like the Christian interpretation of Hell, Africa in Heart of Darkness represents a gloomy and sinful location, separated from the light of God and purity. Thus, in Marlow describing Africa as dark, the reader can infer it symbolizes an evil location similar to that of Hell. To further this hellish imagery, Marlow notes the large river in Africa resembles a “”snake uncoiled.”” Snake imagery is commonplace in Biblical tales.
The notion of a snake, particular in the story of Adam and Eve, represents temptation as a whole and Satan himself. The snake embodies the devil along with all that is dark in the world. The presence of a snake signifies temptation and unholiness are present Therefore, the inclusion of this snake-like river supplements attributes of Africa to being a location of sin and evil, which certainly mirrors that of Hell. Similarly, more direct notes by Marlow add to the interpretation of Africa as being Hell, which in turn supports Kurtz as being the Antichrist. Once first entering Africa, Marlow expresses he “”had stepped into the gloomy circle of inferno”” (Conrad 14). Keywords such as inferno repeat constantly throughout the text as Marlow attempts to describe his depressing location. The consistency of this fiery imagery is evident throughout all of Marlow’s journey in Africa and increases as he inches closer and closer to Kurtz. Of course, Inferno is synonymous with Hell, furthering the proposition of Africa symbolizing Hell. While Africa may not be literal Hell, the presentation of the continent as such a malicious and wicked entity presents a proper setting where the unholy would dwell, indicating it would be a suitable location for the Antichrist once he is sent to control Earth. Likewise, the inclusion of entering this “”gloomy”” location presents Africa truly as an area different from the rest, requiring a physical crossing to experience its hellish effects. The overall depressing atmosphere of the location embodies the dark and dreary events which take place in this location.
As Marlow seemingly wanders through his life and enters Africa, he physically comprehends the malevolence manifested within the nation, allowing the reader to interpret the location as dark and satanic. While possible to interpret these descriptions as a hyperbole to dramatize the anecdote which this whole tale is, biblical references to other locations in the story make a religious interpretation of the text more plausible and differentiate Europe from Africa much like Earth and Hell. Before travelling to Africa, Marlow was required to travel to Brussels to meet with a doctor and the ivory company which he sought employment from. He describes in his venture, “”I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulcher”” (Conrad 7). The term “”whited sepulcher”” is a direct reference to verse in the Bible, where it states, “”Woe unto you… hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness”” (Matthew 23. 27-28). Thus, the city of Brussels, and presumably the rest of Europe, is representative of mankind: sinful while attempting to virtuous lives.
At the time of the Antichrist’s arrival, those who have lived sin-free lives will be sent to Heaven during the event that is known as Rapture, resulting in only those who have sinned to remain on Earth. Particularly, those who will remain on the planet deny their wrongdoings, much like how Marlow considers the people of Brussels to be. Thus, the titling of Brussels as such directly supports the overall religious interpretation of the book, making the notion of Kurtz as the Antichrist and Africa as Hell on Earth more plausible in Marlow’s retelling of his adventure. Similarly, the description of the city also provides context to what Marlow serves in this story, being a misguided wanderer, which will be elaborated upon later in this essay. While many of these attributions to locations by Marlow may merely be an exaggeration, the evidence of choice words in characterizing Africa as a hellish location and Europe, through the city of Brussels, as a sinful Earth promote the interpretation of Kurtz being a portrayal of the Angel of Darkness.
With the setting now interpreted, a plethora or interactions and events swarming around Kurtz strongly mirror his character to that of the foretold Antichrist. One of the key attributes of this satanic figure is that he will be worshipped much like a God, as stated in the Bible, “”He sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God”” (2, Thes 2:3-4). While Kurtz never explicitly describes himself as God, he certainly does amass followers who praise his great capabilities; in Marlow’s anecdote with his crew, he emphasizes, “”I became…as much of a pretense as the rest of the bewitched pilgrims”” (Conrad 24). By using the term “”pilgrims”” to describe the companions of Kurtz, Marlow asserts a religious connotation upon those who praise him. Like those who are pilgrims of God, these pilgrims in Heart of Darkness acknowledge Kurtz to be a superior being and place wholehearted faith in him. As such, Kurtz represents a false deity, who guides those away from the light of God, which is precisely what the Antichrist seeks to do. Likewise, Marlow describes his state as a “”pretense”” like the others who were “”bewitched.”” Such choice words yield to the idea Kurtz’s influence and allure holds supernatural powers over the people of Earth and entices them away from God. Much like the Antichrist using his powers granted from Satan, Kurtz’s amazing capabilities to fascinate people lead to much praise and fascination, thus drawing a connection between Kurtz and the Antichrist.
Another peculiar attribute of the Antichrist is that he, once on Earth, will influence a large portion of the world’s economic system. Evidence of this is seen in the Bible, where it includes, “”[The Antichrist] forced all people … to receive a mark … so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark”” (Revelation 13:16-17. Though Kurtz has reached the zenith of this economic glory, he does contribute largely to the ivory company and is rapidly progressing up the totem pole of power. When the manager discusses with Marlow, he notes, “”Oh, he will go far, very far…He will be a somebody in the administration before long”” (Conrad 16). Straightforwardly, this implies Kurtz is capitalistically advancing as he gains more control and power in the company. If truly the Antichrist, his end goal would be control the entire world, which, based on his overall demeanor in the text, is plausible. As well, the use of “”before long”” in the quote implies Kurtz rapidly, and possibly unfathomably, acquires power, which suggests the notion of his end goal being to reign over all of the world. Thus, Kurtz’s involvement and status in the ivory trade provides a moderate correlation to him being the Antichrist, as they both seek economic power to control the world.
Furthermore, a core feature of the Antichrist is the eloquence with which he speaks to oppose God, as noted in the Bible, “”And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies”” (Revelation 13:5). Similarly, one of Kurtz’s defining traits is his sophisticated manner of speech. Near the halfway point of his story, Marlow adds about Kurtz, “”Of all his gifts the one that stood out … was his ability to talk, his words… the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness”” (Conrad 43). As being one of the defining features from Marlow’s viewpoint, Kurtz’s eloquence supersedes that of a normal man. His speech results in others falling in accord with his beliefs and creates an attraction for those around, as seen from Marlow being drawn in due to Kurtz’s fabled ability to talk. Marlow notes he is unable to distinguish the origin from which Kurtz’s capability of speech originates. Much like how the Antichrist deceives Christians to believe him, Kurtz seemingly has fooled both Marlow and countless others as one cannot differentiate whether he is good or evil. Nothing is quite truer of the false shepherd than this notion of ambiguity, where one is unable to discern his intentions; thus, Kurtz’s capability of speech, which includes the unknown origin of this gift, supports he is the Antichrist.
At a glance, the major fault one may consider in this interpretation is how possibly could Kurtz be the Antichrist if he clearly dies in the text, when a servant states to Marlow, “”Mistah Kurtz – he dead”” (Conrad 64). However, the Antichrist indeed does die, only to be revived by Satan later on; the Bible includes after a battle, “”his fatal wound was healed”” (Revelation 13:3). As Kurtz is torn away from the heart of darkness that is Africa, he becomes even frailer than he once was and proceeds to die. This can be seen figuratively as Kurtz is no longer shielded from the light of God once he is removed from the recesses of the jungle and is therefore killed for his dark intentions. Likewise, the death of the Antichrist by the Lord is only temporary, as he later returns from the help of Satan; thus, the death of Kurtz does not hinder the viewpoint of him as the Antichrist, but rather reflects an event that occurs to the Angel of Darkness. With many more examples possible, the coinciding characteristics and actions of Kurtz and the Antichrist strongly support Heart of Darkness as being a story of the Antichrist and possible end times.
In a similar fashion, the evolution of Marlow’s character throughout the story presents evidence for this Biblical interpretation of the text due to Kurtz’s presence. Marlow serves to represent a wanderer in the text as he is unsure of what to do in his life, as many other people, and can be influenced to partake in questionable activities; thus, he naively voyages to Africa in search for meaning and unintendedly discovers Kurtz, who worsens his overall character. Long before meeting Kurtz in the story, Marlow talks about himself and adds, “”you know I hate, detest and can’t bear a lie”” (Conrad 23). However, Marlow intentionally decides to lie to Kurtz’s Intended at the end of the novella, where he informs her that Kurtz’s last words were her name. Despite his once vehement hatred of lying, Marlow succumbs to the action with little remorse. This presents an evolution of the dynamic Charles Marlow as he changed after meeting Kurtz. Marlow no longer considers lying to be an immoral action and, while only minor, has compromised his moral integrity. Thus, the influence of Kurtz can be attributed to this weakening of character as Kurtz draws in people, much like Marlow, to follow him rather than God (and simply put, Kurtz is not the most righteous of people). As Marlow and others seek meaning through Kurtz instead of a greater power, they are merely fooled by the Antichrist and blindly become worse people due to this false savior. Kurtz leads people away from their path to salvation and, therefore, serves as the Antichrist in Heart of Darkness.
Kurtz’s mannerisms and actions present the case for him being the Antichrist. As a whole, Heart of Darkness then grows to present more than just a tale of Africa, but rather of a specific wanderer, Marlow, who was tricked by the supernatural capabilities of the Antichrist, Kurtz. Through is eloquence and other facets, drew in countless pilgrims to the dark land of Africa. Despite his moral stance, Marlow was incapable of avoiding the allure of Kurtz, which speaks volumes of human nature as a whole. Regardless of how high and mighty one may view their own self, everyone is vulnerable to the faults of human nature and being led astray by others. Thus, we as a society are far from perfect and while being misled by others, hopefully not the Antichrist, is counterproductive, it by no means eternally worsens anyone as they are always able to realize their fault and change. This ability to recover and adapt is one of the greatest attributes of human nature and negates many of the drawbacks of our civilization.
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