AP English Notes

Morality: Fate Is Not In the Eye of the Beholder

Compare and Contrast Essay - "Heart of Darkness"

12th Grade. AP English 4

We, as people, all have morals. Morals determine if what we’re doing is considered the best for us or for others. Judgment plays a huge role in morality since we are judged by our actions which then can develop into our character and in return dictate our fate. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, regarding Kurtz and the Company, Charlie Marlow is unsure of what to think of them at first. He sees the workers being treated inferiorly and as for Kurtz, Marlow’s only thought beforehand was, “I did not see the man in the name any more than you do” (1. 51). Although he has heard many faulty rumors of Kurtz, Marlow has not met him yet therefore has no opinion of the man. Nick Carraway of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, first encounter with Jay Gatsby was unexpected. Many of the party goers who roam the elegant floor room of Gatsby’s mansion gossip of the man himself and blatantly tell Nick of these shrewd rumors. Nick refuses to believe them and is caught off guard when Gatsby greets him at a table. Nick defiantly says, “This is an unusual party for me. I haven't even seen the host” (3. 47), without knowing that he was speaking to the host at this very moment. When Gatsby introduces himself, Nick is passive. Both Marlow and Nick have met people who have changed their aspects on life and these people were once conceived with good morals, maybe they still are deep down, but upon further realization, they were also inconceivably corrupted and blinded by their fate and surroundings.

At the Company’s office in a distant European country, Marlow meets a doctor who warns him about the dangers of Africa and how it can change a person. He describes the doctor’s appearance as “shabby and careless, with ink-stains on the sleeves of his jacket” (1. 27) stringing an opinion on how he perceives the man. He is so hung up on the doctor’s appearance he pays no attention to when the doctor questions him.  He sees the doctor lacking professionalism due to the way he is dressed but decides to trust him anyway. Along the way, he runs into many of the workers within the Company and feels that they all act in the same manner. The Company’s area looked more like a prison of compiled inmates and wardens than an ivory trading corporation. Almost everybody appeared indolent and avaricious; they seemed to be too consumed in greed to care for anyone else. However, there were a few that passed his judgment. Arriving to the station, Marlow meets an astounding, well-dressed young man who claims the position of chief accountant for the Company. Marlow even becomes giddy with pleasure at the sight of the accountant’s clothes; the accountant’s “starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of his character” (1.37); Marlow, already mesmerized by the physical appearance of this man, concludes that the accountant knows exactly what he’s doing and he does it with class. After having to repair the ship, Marlow is taken to see the general manager. His first impression of the manager forms harsh opinions. He viewed the manager as a ludicrous, irresponsible, and unskilled man unfit to maintain order. Despite Marlow’s judgment, the manager was still “obeyed, yet he inspired neither love, nor fear, nor even respect” (1. 42), so why is this man even a manager? Marlow believes that since the manager has never been ill for all three terms, the Company thought to accept him. Or, perhaps his ambition and desire for ivory sparked the rest of the Company’s interest. Whatever the case may be, the manager gave off an uneasy and furtive atmosphere, it seems nobody can trust him, and nobody does. Another peculiar man who introduces himself as a “brickmaker” offsets Marlow. Marlow sees in plain sight that there were no bricks established in this man’s station which he found quite odd. It initiates the question: why would someone lie about their work? It could be that this brickmaker was actually a spy for the manager. The manager and brickmaker both view Kurtz as a threat in their way to success by surpassing him, so in a way, they are in cahoots. The cannibals or savages who work for the Company restrain themselves from feeding their cannibalistic needs also astonished Marlow. Ironically, they had a greater sense of morality than anybody else. Cannibals, those who dine on human flesh, could control their desires might as well say that a group of savages were more fitted to run a business than an ill-mannered, selfish group of proclaimed dignitaries (the Company). Before Marlow meets Kurtz, he says that he is slightly disinterested in knowing more about the man but remains curious about his work ethic. He feels as if Kurtz and his company are under the impression of imperialism. When Marlow finally arrives from his prolonged journey up the swampy Congo River, he sees Kurtz and says, “I looked at him and had not the slightest doubt he was sincere” (2. 73). Marlow takes in the appearance of Kurtz and believes that this factor was his “restraint” much like how a commoner would view a king that gave off the sense to be snobbish. From hearing what the Company has to say about Kurtz, Marlow is bewildered at how much they worship him. Marlow refers to Kurtz as a devil for his devious and selfish actions, and that the darkness within the jungle has consumed his mind leading him to act as a tyrant. Seeking more information from people who know of Kurtz outside the Company, he learns that Kurtz was a universal genius and it wasn’t until he came to Africa that made him become egotistical. But egotistical as he is, Kurtz still had morals; he chose to not stand by them which led him to a cruel fate. Even with all this newfound knowledge on Kurtz, he was still an enigma to Marlow. However, Marlow knows enough to analyze on Kurtz’s full character believing that his “heart of darkness” lies solely on the people who encouraged his limited power in business. The Company and Kurtz pretty much go hand-in-hand since both were heartless, selfish, and arrogant people who were subdued to Africa’s primitive death trap.

From the first invite to Gatsby’s party, Nick has always been more curious of him. His first encounter with Gatsby was unexpected and he views the man as “person of some undefined consequence” (4. 41) as if he were not sure how to formerly communicate upon hearing Gatsby’s prose. Despite his careful cherry-picked diction, Gatsby displays his etiquette properly which impresses Nick and leads him to believe that Gatsby is indeed a gentleman. Nick learns a little of Gatsby’s past and how he served in the war which intrigued Nick but what really astonishes him is the actual story of Gatsby’s success. He hears of Dan Cody, Gatsby’s mentor, and how he taught Gatsby everything he knew to be a successful and rich man. Gatsby followed all these steps and became the big shot he now is. Nick is inspired by the story and do believe that Gatsby can be successful in anything he does. Furthermore, Nick finds Gatsby’s determination to win Daisy’s heart quite endearing. Although Nick knows that she will never be worth it in the long run, he tries to support Gatsby in his decisions anyway and helps him get closer to her again. Nick respects Gatsby for his service, attitude, and determination but becomes discouraged when he discovers that Gatsby is a bootlegger moreover a criminal. He has heard of Gatsby rumored to be a bootlegger before from one of the party goers and is appalled at the truth. However, Gatsby’s criminality did not avert Nick’s judgment by much. Even if he was considered a harmless criminal, it did not change the fact that he was still a generous person. Gatsby’s generosity is exhibited in the many wild parties he throws. Being a new resident of West Egg, he fails to fully grasp how to handle his wealth and does not realize that the people who come to his parties are only taking advantage of his act of kindness. However, Nick does and is disgusted by the fact that some people are that sinister. The people only seem to have negative remarks to say about Gatsby which bewilders Nick. Nick seems to wonder why would anyone gossip about the host of a party and wouldn’t they be worried that he could kick them out and they would never be welcome back? The people of West Egg serve as a plague to the old money traditions. Nick is from East Egg therefore he finds it insulting seeing how the new money cliques waste their wealth on leisure.  Gatsby, too, has slightly caught this plague but does not actually boast about his riches. Developing to Gatsby’s character he is also loyal. When Gatsby was in the car with Daisy driving from New York City back to West Egg, Daisy took control of the wheel, disregarding pedestrians, and brutally slams into Myrtle (Tom’s mistress). Gatsby, being the gentleman that he is, takes the blame for it completely when he tells of the story to Nick. Hearing this made Nick revaluate the people he have come to known and is angered that they are so heartless. Nick declaims to Gatsby, “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together” (8. 98) in which he finally sees Gatsby as a better person than anyone he has ever met before. He knows that Gatsby is a courteous and thoughtful man and that his heart was corrupted not in an evil but manipulative way.  Also, with the word “worth,” Nick is referring to the Buchanans and in reality, they are not worth anything as a person unlike Gatsby. They perceived to be of a higher class, but due to their snooty behavior and lack of goodness when it comes to selfless thoughts, they fail to represent the tradition of old money. Gatsby, who did not even come from a rich family, at least he knew how to behave. Contributing to a greater sense, when Nick meets Gatsby’s father, he learns that Gatsby was destined for success at an early age. With all this knowledge of Gatsby, Nick comes to a conclusion that he was a passionate man with definite intentions who stumbled across the wrong people.  

            In a way, Marlow is similar to Nick, although Nick is slightly less judgmental. Nick vows to reserve judgment until he meets someone as he has stated, but Marlow lashes out on abrasive or pleasant remarks about anyone he comes in contact with. Since they are both white men, they are accustomed to the proper style and manner displayed in a common one. Marlow was fascinated by the chief accountant’s appearance and apparel as Nick was with Gatsby. It is true that a man dressed presentable is morally presentable, the accountant and Gatsby sure caught the attentions of Nick and Marlow without even having to speak at first.  Gatsby, similar to the cannibals in Heart of Darkness, had morals to control his desires at first but fails to keep this consistent. His everlasting love for Daisy is similar to the cannibals’ gluttonous hunger for human flesh. In both novels, Kurtz and Gatsby were the central gossip. While there were people who said benevolent and horrendous rumors about Kurtz, it seems that only horrendous rumors were said about Gatsby. This is ironic since Gatsby is a much more suitable man than Kurtz will ever be. A central theme reoccurring in both novels is the all-famous “don’t judge a book by its cover” quotation. Kurtz was given a slightly good and also bad name to the others outside of the Company while Gatsby was misjudged by those who did not know him well enough.

Sometimes we meet people in life who we misjudge at first either negatively or positively, but then see that they might or might not be a person of morality. For Kurtz and the Company, Marlow felt as if almost nobody had a single clue in what they were doing and if it were for selfish reasons. He does not believe that successful people had a greater sense of morality since most of them were already corrupted with such malevolent thoughts. In contrast to Marlow’s thoughts, Nick believed in Gatsby after he knew more about him and it was obvious that Gatsby had many morals, much more than all of East and West Egg put together. No matter how “nice” the other people seemed nobody could compare to Gatsby as being one of the most faithful people to ever exist. He did not even have immoral thoughts to anyone (maybe to Tom when he was being complicated) but besides that, he meant no harm. Kurtz and Gatsby’s fates were crucial and they knew it all along. The success they had come a long way to earn only spelled out trouble for them. However unfair it may have seemed, that is life.

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Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Morality: Fate Is Not In the Eye of the Beholder" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 03 Oct. 2013. Web. 02 Mar. 2024. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/english/sample-essays/morality-fate-is-not-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder/>.