It’s too bad we had to rush the end of today’s discussion on why Marlow lies to Kurtz’s fiancee. I think Trish made a good point that Marlow hates lies and wasn’t necessarily lying–at least not to the men on the boat that he’s telling this story to. The argument was also made that Marlow wants to give her something to believe in and that we have to keep these revelations (“veils”) hidden to have purpose in our lives and deny that we’re just insignificant blots in the universe.
I agree with the arguments posed, but I feel like Marlow’s lie is also more personal than that. I think he ends his story in defeat. When Kurtz has this “supreme moment of knowledge” and finds that there is ultimately nothing, he dies (69). He dies with the true belief that there is no greater reason or power and that he has nothing to live for, nothing to be remembered by, and nothing to await on “the other side.” He almost accepts death because of this revelation. Marlow, on the other hand, agrees with Kurtz but has a “hesitating foot.” He “remained loyal to Kurtz to the last, and even beyond” because Kurtz died with the full knowledge that there is no truth; he died by his belief (70). Marlow isn’t willing to go that far. When he lies to the Intended, then, it’s because he knows disclosing the truth would mean full acceptance of Kurtz’s revelation. He would be saying that his own life is meaningless and something he could easily toss away, which is a fear that overpowers his hatred of lies.
Conrad could have ended the book soon after Kurtz’s death or even when Marlow finds Europeans petty when he comes back home. We get this scene with the Intended instead, and Marlow seems angry at his betrayal of Kurtz’s last words in the penultimate paragraph. I don’t think he lies for the Intended’s sake, he lies for his own. He wonders if “the heavens would fall upon [his] head” if he had “rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due” and shows his fear in facing the emptiness of his own mortality (77). Marlow feels defeated because he would not go as far as Kurtz for his belief and sees himself as weak.
I guess the biggest argument I could make against the one I just posed would be that Kurtz was, arguably, unwilling to accept his death and too scared to die. (Though why would he want to keep living after this particular moment of truth?) I was hoping for more thoughts on this scene, particularly contrarian ones. I’m not sure if I’m digging too deep.