Heart of Darkness
Review On “Heart Of Darkness” Written By Joseph Conrad
From his introduction in the beginning of the novel, the character Kurtz presented himself as a robust personality. In the words of the author, Kurtz is a man of “sombre pride,” (Conrad 2.29) and his undying will “consumed his flesh,” (Conrad 3.24). Most of Kurtz’s character is presented by Marlow the narrator and a new traveler into what the audience has come to call, the Heart of Darkness. Kurtz was both adored and despised for his vast degree of influence in the Congo. He often appeared hardened and stout to his fellow Europeans as well as to the natives of the island.
Overall, despite his rugged appearance, Kurtz came to be admired for his leadership, freewheeling spirit, and the salvation he shows Marlow. With such ideals, Kurtz’s personality tends to stand out among the plethora of ‘civilized’ European officers. Unlike the other European leaders, Kurtz sees the ‘primitive’ society as more than a workforce. He creates a persona of superiority, ultimately, winning the influence needed to become a symbol of leadership to the natives. In one situation involving the company manager, Kurtz is criticized for being outgoing and adventurous with his tactics rather than cautious. As the company manager explains, “Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. He did not see the time was not ripe for vigorous action. Cautiously, cautiously–that’s my principle. We must be cautious yet. The district is closed to us for a time. Deplorable!” Armout 2 (Conrad 3.19).
In this case, what makes Kurtz such a commendable leader is his ability to shift away from the practical option to further advance the productivity of the company. Kurtz becomes a vitual part of this system so much so that when he is rumored to be ill, repairs of the ship become even more apparent. Overall, aside from his intention being for personal gain, he conceives a system which generates success unlike others who followed the cautious and practical route of leadership.While his leadership lies above the surface, his freewheeling spirit is what drives Kurtz’s through his indeveres throughout the novel. Such a spirit can only be revealed through a man’s behavior and his intentions. Kurtz’s actions were guided by two principles: superiority and the end product. In a way, Kurtz represents a ravenous hurricane set to entail the European ideals on the still and peaceful Congo. As the hurricane grows, winds heighten, debris becomes more unpredictable, eventually, turning action into desire. Kurtz’s determination doesn’t just intimidate the people of the Congo, but in brickmaker who fear him as a threat to their position on the ship.
From the start of the novel, Marlow followed Kurtz’s example blindly. He first describes him as “I was curious to see his mingled eagerness and reluctance…The man filled his life preoccupied his thoughts, and swayed his emotions,” ( Conrad 3.2 ). Marlow viewed Kurtz as an investigation waiting to be solved. Kurtz embraced the attention, however, his actions changed Marlow in an unexpected manner. Later in the plot, Marlow comes to realize the wrongfulness Kurtz’s intentions, specifically, his lust for greed and power. Marlow, in a way, starts to resent such a notio. Kurtz represents the African Palm Civet, who preys on the weak for their own gain. His looming shadow blocks the drifting breezes of the once untouched Congian society. While Armout 3 unintentional, Kurtz’s blatant disregard for morals help aid a change of behavior, developing Marlow into the sympathetic and inclusive African Forest Elephant by the end of his journey.
All in all, while ill-intentioned, Kurtz’s leadership, determination, and influence on others is something to be admired. His leadership guided natives and European sailors to the unexplored depths of Congo. Kurtz’s determination and free wheeling spring remained incessant to the challenges to his position as well as those provided by the environment. Lastly, he taught Marlow, a Russian from a similar background as himself, a valueless lesson. After all, he himself was never given the opportunity to understand the same lesson as his final words stand, “the horror, the horror” (Conrad 3.12).
Disrupting Colonial Subjugation
In “Heart of Darkness”, Conrad distances himself from the eurocentrism of the 19th century, offering a view of scepticism over dogmatic belief in the duplicities of colonial rhetoric. Through this, Conrad subtly undermines the claim of the colonial conquest as an agent of progress and ‘forerunner of change’.
Conrad reveals the colonial enterprise as an institution of cavalier indifference. Congo, merely reduced to ‘a place of darkness’, is constructed as an omnipresent entity, impenetrable, unfathomable to the European realm of cognition. By referring to Congo as a ‘blank space of delightful mystery’ and a ‘snake’, a sense of triviality is evoked through the denial of historical context and value; instead, the country is summarised as an animal, its exotic nature and “charm” seemed to only serve the purpose of satisfying colonisers’ desire to ‘lose [themselves] in all the glories of exploration.’ There, Conrad renders the colonial conquest’s claim to enlighten as insincere by unveiling Marlow’s sentiments for Congo as a ‘white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over’.
Colonial discourse, as an apparatus of power, is shown by Conrad to disavow its own real motivations. The title of ‘brickmaker’ alludes to a sense of real work being done; the ostensible appearance implies advancement, progress and accomplishment. However, the main concerns of the brick maker is revealed to be about the material, tangible influence, power, rank and position. (‘my..aunt’s influential acquaintances were producing an unexpected effect upon that young man’) Thus, this juxtaposition between the exterior of the colonial rhetoric— to be ‘an emissary of science and progress”— and its interior of inefficiency acts to subtly undermine its claim of ‘progress’.
The evocative imagery of a ‘beaten nigger groan[ing] somewhere’ in passage two acts as an allegory for the barbarisms of the colonial empire. The repetition of ‘pitiless, pitiless’ affirms the false sense of civility amongst the colonial agents, evoking a sense of cruelty and detachment instead. The brick maker’s ironic claim of ‘what a row the brutes make’ is at once rendered hypocritical by the air of decay and death surrounding the description, ‘the hurt nigger moaned’. By exhibiting a strain of savagery within the civilised, Conrad exposes the colonial agent’s own blindness to discern the brutality of the colonial enterprise. The lilting cadence of Marlow’s tone that lingers still albeit the images of wanton suffering, encapsulated by the abrasiveness of “bang!”, undermines his own sentiments for the colonial rhetoric. The frame narrative of the novella thereby introduces a critical distance between the reader and narrator, allowing the former to mediate on what the latter fails to recognise.
The most salient irony in the novella revolts around Kurtz. Kurtz, ‘a man all Europe contributed to the making of’, is constructed as the epitome of colonial imperialism, offering lofty, awe-inspiring ideas on ‘science and progress’. Albeit attaining this air of superiority and ‘virtue’, upon being placed in a landscape outside the realm of European cognition, without the familiar confines and restraints of civilisation, the civilised man frees himself from all moral bounds. The ‘faint sounds’ and ‘dim stir’ of the ‘forest’ creates a narrative landscape of echoes and ambivalent boundaries, rendering moral restraints deliquescent. Kurtz is thus provided a fertile ground where savage tendencies, baser instincts and primordial emotions overpower civilised restraint; the concrete and vivid imagery of hi, ‘wander[ing] alone, far into the depths of the forest’ thus symbolises the abandonment of the civilised self and subverts the power and dominance of civilisation.
Kurtz’s succumbing to his primitive emotions is rendered palpable through his ‘fancy’ to kill ‘whom he jolly well pleased’. In Kurtz’s metamorphosis from a member of the ‘gang of virtue’ to a ‘terrible man’, Conrad elicits a parallel between civilisation and the wilderness, suggesting an interconnectivity and a ‘common kinship’ between the two juxtaposing binaries—Kurtz, whilst still ‘no ordinary man’ and beholds grand, magnanimous ideals regards progress and civilisation, he is also persuaded by his baser instincts. Through this underlining sense of the uncanny, Conrad brings the barbarisms of the colonial conquest to the foreground, rendering its ‘punishments’ as man’s inhumanity to tore men, rather than to ‘brutes’ or ‘savages’.
The honest account of Kurtz ‘rad[ing] the country’ reveals the commercial exploitation behind the duplicities of the colonial rhetoric to be a ‘beacon on the road towards better things’. Through the absurdity imbued in the description of Kurtz having ‘no goods to trade’ ivory with, Conrad shows that, despite being a ‘Company for trade’, the very absence of a standard monetary system only acts to accentuate the failure of the colonial enterprise to instil a system that stands for advancement and progress. Thereby, the duplicities of the colonial rhetoric is made appearance and once more, the futility in the colonial conquest’s efforts to enlighten is exemplified, negating its own claims of efficiency and change.
Hence, by focalising attention upon the implicit truth beneath the veneer of the enlightening, civilising mission, Conrad reveals the inefficiency and inefficacies behind the dualities of colonial rhetoric, ultimately subverting its claim to be the ‘forerunner of conquest, of trade’.
The Characteristic of the Novel “Heart of Darkness”
Adaptations can come under great criticism when they do not remain faithful to every step of the original text as often it is claimed the adaptation will lose the original meaning of the text. “Apocalypse Now” as an adaptation deviates from the original novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ but retains the same values and morals. I will be focusing on the similarities in character development of Willard and Marlowe despite the circumstantial differences in each text and also the similarities of Kurtz and his influence within both versions.
At the time the novel ‘Heart of Darkness’ was being written the concept of colonisation was viewed positively which is seen within the text. While colonised populations initially did see some benefits, colonialism was not “simply a matter of Europeans imposing themselves upon African societies.”(Rassool 2017) However empire builders had to be able to justify their actions and they did that by imposing their ‘superiority’ on the colonised. Colonialism quickly acquired a hostile meaning linked to theories of white racial supremacy and was condemned by Conrad as little more than an example of violent robbery. Despite this Conrad does not portray Marlowe as particularly anti-colonisation but that he believes in the civilising aspect of it but not the savage robbery. This is reflected in the novel mainly through Marlowe’s observations as they get further up the river. The difficulty in comparing both the themes and the characters in the adaptations is of course we are not dealing with colonisation but instead the Vietnam War in ‘Apocalypse Now’.
The key similarity is both of the characters developing realisation of the futility of war and violence and the lack of action each of them takes in retaliation to it. Both characters feel a certain kinship with Kurtz, Marlowe showing a kind of revere to the extent that he alienates himself from numerous individuals by aligning himself with Kurtz. Willard begins to show an understanding of Kurtz and his decisions more and more as he descends into the madness of the war as he travels further up the river. While much of the content of the adaptation was changed to appeal to a more modern and diverse audience and also to fit the time it was created the main theme of imperialism remains prominent as the American occupation in Vietnam is portrayed as a type of Western Imperialism.
Conrad used Kurtz as the embodiment of colonialism, turning him into a crazed individual that sees himself as a God that was entitled to do whatever he wished to the natives because of his European identity. He is essentially a condensed metaphor for colonialism as a whole. In his report he claims that “by the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded” but he does not say how they could do this is until the end of his report which directs them to “Exterminate all the brutes!” (Conrad PG 45) In ‘Apocalypse Now’ Kurtz is used not as a metaphor for colonialism but more the consequence of war. He is quite clearly psychologically damaged by the things he has seen and done for the army, much like Captain Willard who cannot reassert himself into civilised society because he no longer feels he belongs there after his first tour in Vietnam.
We can see examples of Kurtz’s insanity from the various corpses and heads that adorn his camp. Kurtz does not appear to be at all bothered by them however and this is possibly because of the atrocities he has already seen and committed when compiling his war record. The hypocrisy of the US army is referenced to throughout the adaptation in the same manner that the true motives for colonisation are revealed in ‘Heart of Darkness’. We see a band of helicopters performing an airstrike on a Vietnamese village with no remorse and yet when a member of that same Vietnamese town throws a grenade into one of the army helicopters Colonel Bill Kilgore refers to them as ‘Fucking Savages’.( Duvall, Apocalypse Now) Marlowe also recognises the hypocrisy of the authority in the novel. He sees colonisation as a help to the uncivilised people but begins to see it for what it truly was as the novel progresses. ‘They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind’. (Conrad, PG 8)
It seems in both examples it was not what Kurtz did but who he did it to. When he labelled himself a God in ‘Heart of Darkness’ he was threatening the authority of the colonial powers and in ‘Apocalypse Now’ it wasn’t the manner he was killing that originally drew attention to himself but the fact that he killed some Vietnamese intelligence agents. The soldiers that are giving Willard his mission even recognise the struggle for morality that comes with being a soldier. ‘In this war, things get confused out there—power, ideals, the old morality, and practical military necessity because there’s a conflict in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil. And good does not always triumph.’ (Spradlin, Apocalypse Now) In the Novel it seems that Marlowe is one of the only people to acknowledge that there is something wrong with the treatment of the natives. There are parallels between Kurtz preaching about judgement in ‘Apocalypse Now’ and numerous characters in ‘Heart of Darkness’. ‘‘Certainly,’ grunted the other; ‘get him hanged! Why not? Anything –anything can be done in this country. (Conrad, PG 48)
Race plays a much larger role in ‘Heart of Darkness’ than its adaptation and we can see throughout the novel the numerous references to colour and nationality that Conrad makes. The colour of these African natives is mentioned numerous times but Conrad does not necessarily portray them in a negative light. Marlowe almost appears to have a certain kinship with some of them like his helmsman, which we realise when he dies. ‘The black man lays a claim on the white man which is well-nigh intolerable. It is the laying of this claim which frightens and at the same time fascinates Conrad,”… the thought of their humanity — like yours Ugly.’ (Achebe, PG 257) We also see Willard begin to realise how wrong the entire war was and how much it would affect him and his crew to continue their mission. ‘Oh man, the shit piled up so fast in Vietnam you needed wings to stay above it’ (Sheen, Apocalypse Now)
One of the main similarities between Marlowe and Willard despite the stark differences in the setting and circumstances of their situation is that while they acknowledge the wrong that they see they don’t actually do anything about it. When the crew meets the Vietnamese peasant boat Willard kills the wounded woman simply so his mission does not have to detour. Marlowe acknowledges that he doesn’t fully agree with some aspects of colonialism but attempts to take Kurtz home anyway. At the end of ‘Apocalypse Now’ Willard kills Kurtz despite it appearing that he did agree with him to an extent and returns to civilisation, presumably to go on and be promoted to a Major as he referenced earlier in the film. Despite the message both versions offer, the futility of violence and the effect such actions can have on the mind, there is little action actually taken to stem these atrocities by either of the protagonists.
Both versions are set in very different circumstances and timeframes but the theme that highlights the futility of warfare is rampant in both texts. In ‘Apocalypse Now’ they use war as an example of Western Imperialism like ‘Heart of Darkness’ uses colonisation. Although they are different methods they both promote realisation and development of character for Willard and Marlowe. The character of Kurtz in both versions is complex and can be viewed as a conundrum as it is left up to the viewer and reader whether he is in fact insane or if he has just shed the restraints of judgement as is almost encouraged in warfare. Despite the strong differences between them ‘Apocalypse Now’ serves to promote the same values and moral lesson that can be captured in ‘Heart of Darkness’ and therefore acts as a unique type of adaptation that deviates from fidelity but still manages to create the same feelings and principles as the original.
The Use of Philosophical Ideas of Hobbes in Conrad’s Novel
Though Joseph Conrad and Thomas Hobbes lived during different time periods and never had the opportunity to meet each other, both shared several ideas regarding human nature while they also harbored a few differences in ideologies. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness highlights several of these similarities and differences between Conrad’s views and Hobbes’ philosophies.
Conrad’s characterization of Marlow and Kurtz cause these two characters to resemble two sides of Hobbesian philosophy that a society is necessary to control the people and prevent them from living in a primitive and chaotic state free of moral restrains and regards. Conrad depicts Marlow, before he leaves for the Congo, as a man who comes from Britain, a wealthy, organized and structured country full of “high houses, innumerable windows with venetian blinds” (Conrad, 1899, p.13). According to this aspect of Hobbes’ philosophy, the central government of the western civilization suppressed Marlow’s innate primitive characteristics, and when Marlow reaches the Congo, Conrad portrays him as a confused man, initially having a hard time accepting the fact that both natives and the people of Western civilizations are ultimately all part of the same race, for to Marlow, the natives appear more as animals than humans and he ponders about the horrific thought of “[the natives’] humanity – like yours – the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar” (Conrad, 1899, p.58). Seeing this wild state of the people in the Congo comes as a deep surprise to Marlow at first, but contrastingly, Conrad soon indicates that Kurtz, a veteran of the area, adapted to this situation during his time in the area. Though Kurtz also once spent his days in Western civilization, Conrad characterized his activities to show that his time in the depths of the Congo heavily impacted him, for “the wilderness has patted him on the heard, and, behold, it was like a ball – an ivory ball; it caressed him, and – lo! – he had withered, it had taken him, loved him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul to its own by the inconceivable ceremonies of some devilish initiation”(Conrad, 1899, p. 79).Away from a central government such as the one in Britain, the chaotic nature that Hobbes describes in his philosophies arises as Kurtz, surrounded by the wildness of the non-Westernized Congo, returns to a primitive state.
Not only does Conrad reflect this philosophy in the characters of Marlow and Kurtz, but he also scatters it in less prominent characters who also exhibit this natural state. For example, Conrad mentions a captain called Fresleven who he initially describes as “the gentlest, quietest creature that ever walked on two legs” (Conrad, 1899, p.12). Conrad, however, does not further characterize this character in a manner that follows that statement –instead, he chooses to then state that the captain beat one of the native chiefs in front of a large crowd until the chief’s son speared the captain and chooses to have Marlow mentally justify this man’s action by believing that this act had happened because “he had been a couple of years already out there engaged in the noble cause” (Conrad, 1899, p.12). This mental justification falls right in line with the Hobbesian belief regarding the importance of an authoritative force, for without it, the captain acted in a manner that completely went against the European description of the captain once he had spent a few years living in the Congo. Conrad’s depictions of these characters, from Marlow to Fresleven, align with the branch of Hobbes’ philosophy regarding the nature of mankind, for these characterizations follow this line of thought: once people are away from a central government, they will face primitive transformations such as the ones that Kurtz and Fresleven faced.
Conrad fostered a belief that humans exist in a natural state of conflict and internal war based on self-interests and desires. The pilgrims and Kurtz embody this belief as Conrad creates westernized imperialists who obsess so much over obtaining this wealth that they almost exist in a state of worship as “the word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it” (Conrad, 1899, p.35). Conrad centers the interests of Kurtz and the pilgrims on wealth in order to highlight their internal conflicts involving the ivory. Eventually, their love for ivory shapes them into greedy creatures whose desires for wealth triumph against their moral restraints as the pilgrims exploit the natives for labor and “[snap] ivory from the natives” (Conrad, 1899, p.52). Conrad places Kurtz at the head of this pack that obsesses over wealth as Kurtz “[steals] more ivory than all the other agents together” (Conrad, 1899, p.77) with no regard to the consequences that his actions will have on those from which he stole from. Conrad reflects this internal war, as described by Hobbes, over and over again as he mentions the consequences of these conflicts due to the desire for wealth.
Additionally, Hobbes fostered a belief that people naturally fear that other people will invade them, and therefore may choose to strike first as an anticipatory defense. Conrad echoes this belief in the interactions between the Europeans and the natives that live in the Congo. When Conrad depicts Marlow floating down the river in the fog, he incorporates an attack from the natives even though the Europeans had not directly acted out in any way to threaten them as “sticks, little sticks, were flying about – thick: they were whizzing before my nose, dropping below me, striking behind me against my pilot house” (Conrad, 1899, p.73). In line with the Hobbesian belief, Conrad chose to have the natives along the river strike first against the Europeans because they feared that the Europeans would cause them more harm if they chose not to strike. After Kurtz passes away, Conrad illuminates Marlow’s mental turmoil as he fears “the possibility of a sudden onslaught and massacre, or something of the kind, which I saw impending” (Conrad, 1899, p.108). Conrad once again incorporates Hobbes’ belief by opening a window to Marlow’s thoughts about the fear of an attack functioning as a defense.
One area that Hobbes and Conrad adopted contrasting ideas on was women. Hobbes insisted on the equality of all people, explicitly women, because he believed that all people face domination and possess the ability to potentially dominate other people. Conrad, however, portrayed women in Heart of Darkness in a different manner than he portrayed men, observing “how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be” (Conrad 1899). Conrad implies that woman harsh reality around them while men face the facts. Instead of forcing Marlow to tell the Intended Kurtz’s true last words that reflected the horror in the Congo, Conrad chooses to have Marlow preserve the innocence of the woman because he does not think she can handle the truth and chooses to have him lie to the Intended, informing her that “the last words he pronounced was – your name” (Conrad 1899). Conrad prefers this deception so that Marlow does not disillusion the Intended and destroy the idealistic version of Kurtz that she has developed over the years. While Conrad writes initially in a way that implies that women are lesser than men, Conrad eventually implies ironically that Marlow is actually the person who cannot handle the truth. Hobbes would have most likely chosen to allow Marlow to tell the Intended the truth about the horrors that Kurtz committed and experienced, but alas, Conrad, not Hobbes, wrote Heart of Darkness.
Attitude to Feminism in Hod
In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow’s preconceived notion of the naïve and sheltered woman is revealed early in the novel: “It’s queer how out of touch with truth women are! They live in a world of their own and there had never been anything like it and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset.” (Conrad 10) However, it is because of the women’s purity and naivete that the female characters in the novel–Marlow’s aunt, knitters of black wool, the African mistress, and the Intended–possess a sense of mystery and wield power over the men. The women eventually lead the reader to the discovery of a new truth—not that of the stark reality of the Congo, but of the fact that men yield to women’s will as a way to discover and assert themselves. The women are powerful enough to present the men with a direction, a literal journey, and a sense of purpose.
Though Marlow’s aunt and the wool knitters appear for only a short period, their presence precipitates and steers the course of the novel. Marlow’s aunt, who is presented as a disillusioned woman stubbornly adhering to the notion of “White Man’s Burden,” is the one who actually directs Marlow into his expedition of self-discovery and truth in the first place. This irony is compounded by the fact that it is Marlow’s aunt who comes to the rescue when his own efforts prove fruitless: “The men said ‘My dear fellow,’ and did nothing. Then–would you believe it?–I tried the women. I, Charlie Marlow, set the women to work–to get a job.” (6) This passage implies that, regardless of Marlow’s condescending views of women, he too realizes (though without admitting it outright) the female influence and his and other men’s powerlessness. It is his aunt’s belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity that gives her power over men; she justifies male imperialistic goals and becomes the object onto which these men project wealth, power, and status.
The women in the Belgian company office knit black wool, symbolizing and foreshadowing a sealed fate, dark and tragic. Their power rests in their possession of this fate, and their presence is so domineering that later in the journey, Marlow yields to their unquestionable authority: “The knitting old woman with the cat obtruded herself upon my memory as a most improper person to be sitting at the other end of such an affair.” (59-60) If Marlow’s aunt is the usher into Darkness, then the knitters are the Darkness’ gatekeepers, and Conrad’s representation of fate as two women is no concidence. The connection between the aunt and the knitters, and eventually the other female characters, binds them in a sisterhood, and their roles only complement their own respective goals in maneuvering the men.
The ending of the book is shaped by the African mistress and the Intended. In physical contrast to the ailing Kurtz, the two women are towers (literally, by the descriptions of their height and outstretched arms) of strength, devotion, and purity. Throughout the book, Kurtz is the “remarkable person” (16), the “exceptional man” (19), and a quasi-Christ-like figure, but, to Marlow, the Intended is a god: “bowing my head before the faith that was in her” (70) and “silencing me into an appalled dumbness” (69). While Kurtz holds truth, the Intended holds illusion, and Marlow’s ultimate lie proves the world of women overcomes the world of truth. It is women’s illusion that shelters men and gives them strength and purpose. This protection can be clearly seen with the Intended: her depiction of Kurtz is drastically different from the reader’s observations, and her distorted image of Kurtz creates his pristine legacy by cleansing him of his corruption. Her “inextinguishable light of belief and love” (69) manages to extinguish the darkness of humanity, of the man’s world.
Marlow’s asserts women are “out of it” (44), that they exist in their own ideal space, void of vision and possibility and unbeknownst to truth and reality. Yet Marlow’s journey into the Congo places him into a dreamlike state in which he similarly cannot discern truth from fantasy. The implications of a thick, dark jungle signify a world where “the reality fades” and “the inner truth is hidden” (30). Thus, though both the female and male worlds are dark, the female characters dominate because they have not fallen into the male abyss—due to their purity and pledge of responsibility and faith. Marlow’s hazy journey into the Congo and hazy views of the female gender are similar, and this similarity is made even more apparent when he encounters the African mistress, who actually embodies the wilderness itself: “And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immense darkness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, and though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul.” (56) Ironically, he is strongly attracted to her powerful feminine force, the force of nature, of the female world, which he had once made an effort to avoid. With his travel down the Congo, he has been forced to immerse himself in the female realm, an image of the African mistress with receiving arms, which has similarly “caressed him [Kurtz]…taken him, loved, him, embraced him, got into his veins, consumed his flesh, and sealed his soul…”(44).
Marlow’s confused view of women can be read in parallel with Conrad’s own struggle to overtly and covertly balance the strong female presences in his work. In the beginning of the novel, Marlow is disoriented by his aunt, who manages to throw his opinions of gender and power into question. Thereby, Marlow becomes uneasy about his own powerlessness and the fact that women might have an existence aside from his problematic interpretations. In order to adhere to his viewpoints, however, Marlow refuses to admit the nuances he himself allows the reader to observe (i.e. the unmistakable power of his aunt, the knitters, the African mistress, and the Intended beyond his own), and his omission reveals a fear which in turn imparts an independent and potent sphere to those women. It is with this sphere–and the mystery within–that Conrad is able to reveal female power beyond a literal portrayal. That power is deeply psychological and subconscious, and closely intertwined amongst the women–the aunt ushering, the knitters guiding, the African mistress embracing, and the Intended cleansing–to conform the male characters to the female will.
Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1990.
The Value Of Sacrifice In “Heart Of Darkness” By Joseph Conrad
The Value of Sacrifice
What you value can often be determined by what you are willing to sacrifice. People may believe that they will honor what they value, but that usually only lasts until we are faced with benefits from sacrificing. Many people can say they have “good values” but the truth is that actions speak louder than words.
Upon reading, Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, I knew instantly what I wanted to write about. Mr. Kurtz is a star agent in the Company who was once thought of as a normal man with good intentions. Kurtz is an ivory trader in the heart of Africa. He brings in more ivory than all the other stations combined, making him sort of a legend among the other traders. He is spoken about in high regards and viewed in almost god-like fashion. In order to achieve that status, one would question what he had to sacrifice to get there? The answer would be that he sacrificed one of the most sacred values that any human being should have, morals. Kurtz, in many ways, could be considered greedy. He went into Africa with high hopes and ambitions, but the savagery of the land took its toll on him. His desire for ivory drives him to make alliances and enemies among the native Africans, and together, they raided village after village in search of ivory. He gave up his morals in order to secure his spot as a top trader.
Kurtz’s belief that he was a God of sorts, started after the following of the African natives formed. Africa was behind on the times, so when Kurtz came from Europe, he brought new technologies and advances with him. This made the natives view him as a God, and they were willing to protect and help him. This was a major factor in how he became the highest earning ivory trader. He used the kindness of the natives in order to advance himself in life, and to earn more money for himself. The Harlequin had told Marlow, “You can’t judge Kurtz as you would an ordinary man”. (56) This just proves that Kurtz was viewed as more than an “ordinary man”, and he placed himself above the rest.
Marlow appears to be more like the old Kurtz. The man Kurtz was before he became immoral and savage. Marlow goes to Africa with the dream of piloting a boat, but he sees how savage Africa is. Unlike Kurtz, he does not sacrifice his values and manages to keep civilized throughout the novel. In the beginning of Kurtz’s drive for power, he had simply created a persona of this “god like” person. However, as time went on, this persona of his had slowly become his true self. It shows that if you let something grab a hold of you, it can take over your life. The worst part about it, is that Kurtz does not see anything wrong with what he is doing. He is completely blind to the fact that he is power and money hungry, and is taking advantage of the African natives. It is not until the end of the novel, when he is dying on his deathbed, that he realizes what he has done. That is why he yells out “The horrors! The horrors!” (69) He sacrificed one of the most basic human values, his morals, to advance himself and gain power. Even the people around him were blind to that fact, so in a way, they gave up their morals as well.
Kurtz went to Africa with somewhat good intentions, and had dreams of becoming this great ivory trader. His dreams came true, but at expense. Marlow was able to keep civilized throughout his journey, so it shows that keeping civil and staying true to your values can be done. However, Kurtz sacrificed them because it was the easy thing to do, and he let greed and power corrupt him as a person.
- Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Global Classics, 2014.
How Do Early and Late Feminists Have Read “The Heart of Darkness”
Smith asseverates that she has “tried to show the utility for imperialist ideology of a gender ideology that constructs a feminine sphere as ‘too beautiful altogether’” (Smith183). She presents her thesis through an engagement with feminist “rethinking” (169), successfully noting the binary relationship between men and women. This paper pares down Smith’s argument into its most elemental form: By clannishly attributing undesirable feminine interpretations of imperialist ideology to women, using the literary tools of silencing and symbolizing, Marlow is empowered to formulate his personal masculine construction to obviate the collapse of the separate spheres of genders. In her supporting points calling on the representation of each significant woman in the novel, Smith indeed stays true to the ‘first-wave’ feminist methodology of, “identifying and opposing the various ways women are excluded, suppressed, and exploited” (Lynn 212). However, an important point to note is that she only sporadically ventures beyond, into post-feminism thinking of, “exposing the arbitrariness of this (male) privileging by reversing it, advocating matriarchal values” (214). Evidently, Smith has an ambiguous rending of feminist criticism.
Smith’s analysis of the representation of the laundress can be condensed into this statement: “That the laundress is silenced indicates Marlow’s power” (Smith 173), connoting that Marlow has full control over the portrayal of the laundress. The work of a feminist critic is “to expose this opposition … thereby undermining its power by exposing its artifice.” (Lynn 220) However, Smith does not go beyond stating “the laundress becomes vividly present by virtue of her absence” (Smith 173). In my opinion, her silence does not just render her “present”, but also ratiocinate a form of strong hold over the men. Marlow “respected” the accountant purely on the account that “his starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character” (Conrad 33) and the accountant’s appearance is wholly contributed by the laundress. To add on, the fact that the men are discussing about her in her absence also indicates her importance in the accountant’s life. Hence, Smith herself should do away with the assumption that it is only “natural that a native woman should do a white man’s laundry” (Smith 173) and gain new feminist perspective that the laundress might indeed be the silent ‘power-holder.’
Smith rightfully identifies that Marlow has a “condescending construction” (Smith 177) of his aunt. However, the closest Smith goes about to reverse this binary relationship is to admit that the aunt’s belief is not “unambiguously feminine,” but a “variant of the masculine imperialism”. (178). She advocates that Marlow “uses (his aunt) feminine lack of experience” (179). In Smith’s perspective, his aunt is likened to be Marlow’s chess piece – her only function is to produce “an ideological defense of masculine belief” (179). Indeed, her feminist criticism is undeniably right, showing that Marlow manipulate women’s representation to achieve his own aims. However, she falls short of elaborating the fact that Marlow might be the aunt’s chess piece. Dependent upon his aunt for his position as ship’s captain, Marlow realizes that he has been “represented to the wife of the high dignitary” (Conrad27). “Represented”, he is the object of someone else’s signification over which he has no control. “A piece of good fortune for the Company” (27), he is also an object of economic exchange. When Marlow says of his aunt “she made me quite uncomfortable” (27), it has been repeatedly assumed that his discomfort emanates from her naïve religiosity. A more covert, but more plausible, reading suggests that Marlow, sensing that he has become an object of someone else’s discourse, becomes uncomfortable in the realization that the ideology of male dominance might not hold true.
Smith decorously points out “the Intended is Marlow’s construct” (Smith180). Just before Marlow visits the Intended, he concludes from her portrait “she seemed ready to listen without mental reservation” (Conrad 90). However, Smith does not conform to, “the most obvious critical strategy” of feminist criticism, which is “to look for contradictions … as the author speaks different things to different audiences with the same text” (Lynn 224). She fails to enumerate that when Marlow encounters the Intended, he finds his representation of her challenged. She desires to talk far more than she wishes to listen, and her focus is more on herself than it is on Kurtz: “He needed me! Me!” (Conrad93). Instead of her listening to him, Marlow finds that he listens to her. In effect, she presents to him with an alternative representation, which threatens to undo his constructed theory of male superiority. Marlow in the opening exchange with the Intended is reduced to echoing the Intended’s words. It is uncanny that Marlow, who propagates a constructed narrative about women as narrative truth, who attempts to subjugate women as the weaker sex, is reduced to the same fate.
Moreover, her ratification of Marlow’s lie does not “break down our preconceptions and prejudices” (Lynn 215) which feminism criticism ought to. She surmises “Marlow’s lie functions to stabilize both the feminine sphere of “saving illusion” and the masculine sphere of “confounded fact” (Smith 181). In my opinion, that assay of Marlow’s lie is just brushing the surface of feminist criticism. His lie supplants the woman that it names, rendering woman and lies interchangeable. Lies or the untruth become linked with the body and the feminine – that which Marlow wishes to escape. Therefore, Smith should bring up that it is highly paradoxical that Marlow himself lies, which creates a blurring of gender within his character.
On the other hand, Smith does a competent feminist critique of the representation of the savage woman and the Company women. She goes beyond the basics of determining that Marlow symbolizes and commodifies the woman’s body as the enigma of the jungle and as a thing on which “value” is displayed respectively. She achieves that by challenging the notion of a female identity, advancing that “she might not be the conventionally feminine or conventionally native figure constructed by Marlow’s ideological narrative” (Smith 175). Smith also uses the woman’s silence to indicate ideological stress, thereby revealing “ideology as ideology” (Smith 175). Similarly, Smith’s assertion that the company women “dramatizes the futility of Marlow’s attempt to separate the realm of domesticity from that of colonial adventure, the feminine sphere from the masculine” (Smith 176) is developed relevantly in feminist methodology. By showing the dismantling of the separate spheres, she managed to “deconstruct the binary, dismantling the very oppositional structure that makes oppression and prejudice possible” (Lynn 214). In the substantiation of these women, Smith succeeds in “(undermining) the very idea of stable sexual oppositions” (Lynn 215), holding true to feminist methodology.
In my summary and evaluation of Smith’s article, I have endeavored to show the limitations of her argument, which attempts to hold on to feminist criticism by fundamental identification of sexual oppression and rather sketchy analysis of how Conrad had presented women in his novel. Attempts to “replace dualism with diversity and consensus with variety” (Lynn 214) are too exiguous to regard it as a commendable piece of feminism criticism.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Ed Ross C. Murfin. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Bedford/St. Martina, 1996.
Smith, Johanna. “Too Beautiful Altogether” Ideologies of Gender and Empire in Heart of Darkness. Ed Ross C. Murfin. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Bedford/St. Martina, 1996.
Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts. 4th Ed. Pearson Education, 2005.
The Depiction of Devastation in “The Heart of Darkness”
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness presents an exciting exploration of the vast ethnic and geographical depths of Africa and the Congo River. The novella is a tale of immense conquest of new ground and culture, but under the primary level of the plot, it reveals one’s journey to self-discovery on a distorted road, intertwined with impediments and enigmas. The author utilizes extremely rich vocabulary and a plethora of varied descriptions to evoke the sense of being obstructed from moving forward with the story. The extensive usage of elaborate, convoluted adjectives, which induce a feeling of faint confusion in the reader, effectively infuse the text with the ominous feeling of mystique and confusion. In addition to this, Conrad makes use of specific word choice to convey the bleak, desolate nature of the whole world of the novella. Through the diversity of the figurative language and the use of literary devices such as metaphors, gradation, symbolism and imagery, Joseph Conrad exemplifies the portentous, yet inscrutable and barren landscape of the world that the characters are forced to stagger through.
The novella carries the sense of imminent doom throughout the whole story, creating a feeling of hopelessness and inevitability, effectively augmented through the calm, resigned embrace of this danger by the characters. The first ill omen of the journey is presented early on though Marlow’s remark upon setting foot in Belgium: “I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulcher” (4). This comparison between the city and the imagery of the “whited sepulcher”, in effect a tomb, immediately gives the passage an ominous tone. This crypt-like town, carrying the intrinsic connotation of sorrow and death, sets off the evil-boding tone of the upcoming travel. As the time for sailing off approaches, the threatening feeling seems to wrap tighter and tighter around Marlow, creating an uncharacteristic sense of anxiety, a mood that gradually makes him realize that something is amiss. The protagonist detects this as he is tending to the business details of the voyage in the office of the Company, confessing that “[he] began to feel slightly uneasy … and there was something ominous in the atmosphere. It was just as though [he] had been let into some conspiracy—I don’t know—something not quite right” (4). Marlow’s words explain what he is feeling reasonably, but what truly illuminates his fear of the menacing vibe of the impending journey is the stuttering tone of the passage, stylized through breaking the sentence with em dashes. Furthermore, the ascending gradation of the sentiments “uneasiness”, “ominous atmosphere” and “conspiracy” creates a crescendo in the passage that mirrors the overall feeling of slow-burning danger, present in the novella. The sensation of looming peril escalates as Marlow ponders about the two secretaries, who “seemed to know all … about [him] … [he] thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes” (4).
The portentous, mysterious depth of the passage is evoked through the imagery of the women “guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall”, which evokes a strong connection to death and tragedy, amplified through the symbolism of the color black, traditionally associated with morning, and the simile “as for a warm pall”, tying in with the mausoleum-like representation of the city. In addition, the imagery of the two women knitting while deciding people’s faith alludes to Greek mythology, and more specifically, the three Moirai, who control the metaphorical thread of life of every person in the world by actually knitting their destiny. This mythological reference and the repetition of “introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown” further highlight the already heightened feeling of wariness palpable in the passage.
Conrad incorporates even more symbolism pertaining to impending doom in Marlow’s account of entering the office: “I was going into the yellow. Dead in the center. And the river was there—fascinating—deadly—like a snake” (4). The author utilizes the color yellow as a harbinger, hinting at the troubles in the future, as the color carries importance as a symbol of alertness and danger, and the snake, also as an ominous symbol. The figura etymologica “dead” – “deadly” more explicitly reveals the portentous character of the passage, setting the bleak tone of the journey very early on. While the string of ill premonitions is very easily noticeable in the opening pages of the novella, these forewarning passages continue to manifest themselves, albeit more rarely, but with greater fervor as Marlow is exploring Africa. One of his first impressions of the continent and more specifically, the land itself, is that he “would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly” (7). The personification of the land as a scheming devil immediately establishes the whole landscape as an omen of imminent peril, and Marlow is completely aware of this. The juxtaposition of the “flabby, pretending” nature of the evildoer and his “rapacious and pitiless folly” creates a sense of bewilderment and uneasiness as the conflicting qualities make the image of the “devil” questionable.
This general feeling of anxiety grows stronger and stronger as Marlow begins to recognize the same ominous atmosphere in the gestures and words of others. While Marlow, the narrator of this story, is eavesdropping on a conversation between the manager and the manager’s uncle, he becomes terrified of the evil-boding nature all around them as “the forest, the creek, the mud, the river – seemed to beckon with a dishonouring flourish before the sunlit face of the land a treacherous appeal to the lurking death, to the hidden evil, to the profound darkness of its heart” (15). Through the personification of “the forest, the creek, the mud, the river”, the whole landscape seems like a harbinger of imminent peril. The passage again works with juxtaposition to emphasize the “lurking death” of the journey, creating contrasting imagery such as “dishonoring flourish” and “before the sunlit face … to the profound darkness”. Moreover, the descending gradation of “lurking death”, “hidden evil”, “profound darkness” aims to downplay the importance of the characters’ physical peril as if this fate has already been established for them. The novella creates a sense of constant threat through the use of varied language, and the use of this ominous atmosphere cleverly introduces the motif of uncertain darkness.
The inscrutable nature of the novella’s world is conveyed through many bizarre moments during Marlow’s retelling of the story, with all of these unfathomable events establishing a metaphorical impenetrable darkness, clouding all possible clarity and judgment on how to act accordingly on this quest. Many aspects of life in and around the Company’s stations in Africa evoke feelings of perplexity and estrangement, starting as soon as Marlow sets foot on the new continent. One of his first encounters with the inscrutable is described in the account of his first steps while exploring: “I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it impossi-ble to divine … It might have been connected with the philanthropic de-sire of giving the criminals something to do. I don’t know. Then I nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scar in the hillside” (7). The protagonist’s bewildered reaction to this new, inexplicable world is conveyed through his absurd explanation of the matter, suggesting that the only real reason for this pit to exist is to provide actual work to the captives on the land. The curiosity of the situation is also amplified through the slight irony that while he avoided the larger, more dangerous hole, he almost had an accident with the small obstacle, “no more than a scar in the hillside”. Moreover, the “vast artificial[ness]” of the man-made pit is juxtaposed with the natural quality of the ravine, evident by the personification of the land through “scar”, which further demonstrates the unfathomable character of this realm.
At first, Marlow is puzzled by the strangeness of the land and scenery, but this turns out to be just a small part of the whole oddness of the world. Very soon, he encounters other humans, whose living conditions and appearance evoke an even stronger sense of confusion in him. As Marlow continues to explore the land, he comes upon “[b]lack shapes [which] crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all their attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair … The work was going on. The work!” (7). Again, he is dumbfounded by the juxtaposition of the miserable lives of the workers, coming to their end, and the relentless mining work, stopping for nothing or no one. The enigmatic nature of the whole situation is expressed through the metaphorical degrading of the workers as “shapes”, incomplete human beings and the symbolism of the color black, synonymous with darkness and the unknown. Marlow heightens this sensation through the vivid, rapid enumeration of the labor workers’ actions, which creates a chaotic, perplexing feeling in the reader, and also evokes the sense of dismay through the exclamation mark at the end of the passage. In this incomprehensible world, Marlow does not truly see the Africans as whole human beings; instead, his fragmented descriptions signify just how inconceivable he finds his whole surroundings. The people he encounters are “bundles of acute angles [which] sat with their legs drawn up. One … stared at nothing, in an intolerable and appalling manner: his brother phantom rested its forehead, as if overcome with a great weariness; and all about others were scattered in every pose of contorted collapse … ” (8). Marlow’s lack of understanding of this world is evident by his misinterpretation of the gazes of these people, dismissing them as “star[ing] at nothing” and being “overcome with great weariness” without any knowledge about them. His frustration with the unfathomable permeates through his “intolera[nce] and appal[l]” at the person, who seemingly gazes towards nothingness. The inscrutability of the continent is conveyed again through the descriptions of the black inhabitants as “acute angles”, “phantom[s]” and “pos[ing] [in] contorted collapse”, which all illustrate a bizarre image, characteristic for this strange world. Near the end of the novella, as the crew is sailing back, Marlow finds the physical, human manifestation of this curious world in Mr. Kurtz himself, remarking that “his [life] was an impenetrable darkness” (32).
Despite even this revelation, Marlow never learns to decipher the perplexing nature of life, yet grows to accept things how they are. He muses: “droll thing life is—that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose” (33). The metaphorical “mysterious arrangement” skillfully synthesizes the notion of the inscrutable world, but Marlow’s dismissal of the “futile purpose” reveals this world is nothing to be preoccupied with. The novella portrays Marlow’s tale as a journey into a mysterious, unfathomable world where nothing makes sense, a notion which, through his embracing attitude at the end, is rendered trivial. This world is not only trifling in its inscrutable law and order, but also very desolate and empty.
The barren landscapes and internal reflection and pondering of the characters create a sense of isolation and seclusion in the novella, effectively establishing the notion that every person in this world is perpetually alone, at first physically and consequently, mentally and spiritually. While Marlow does not see this in the beginning of the novella, his personality has changed significantly due to the journey to Africa. He has become extremely moody, often internalizing and analyzing all emotions he feels, choosing only to share out his ideas rather than engage in real conversation. His transformation begins during the trip itself as he evokes the terrible sense of isolation, first present in nature: “not the faintest sound of any kind could be heard. You looked on amazed, and began to suspect yourself of being deaf – then the night came suddenly, and struck you blind as well … just there, standing all around you like something solid” (18). The serenity of the landscape inhibits Marlow’s senses, which starts the internal process of feeling isolated, alluded to by the notion of “suspecting yourself” in Marlow’s own words. The simile “standing all around you like something solid” further heightens the overwhelming quality of this newfound bareness. The change is gradual, with Marlow beginning to connect everything with this imposed seclusion, often amplified in his internal exploration of real world, physical maters. While the helmsman is dying, Marlow contemplates that “as though in response to some sign we could not see, to some whisper we could not hear, he frowned heavily … the luster of inquiring glance faded swiftly into vacant glassiness” (21). The isolation he feels is two-fold, for he feels the helmsman’s misery at not being to adequately respond to the sign only he can sense, and at the same time, he feels insulated himself as he cannot grasp who the addressee of the dying man’s reaction is. The anaphoric repetition of “we could not see … we could not hear” creates a sense of total sense deprivation, and coupled with the bleak connotation of “vacant glassiness”, it establishes the extremity of the world’s desolate effect on humans. Marlow has become so affected by this notion that he finds no refuge in the idea of death, but actually objectifies it as the ultimate symbol of desolation, “tak[ing] place in an impalpable greyness, with nothing underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamour, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat … without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary” (33). The irrevocable effect of loneliness death possesses is corroborated through the listing of its qualities with the constantly reoccurring “without” and the notion of the “impalpable greyness”, which serve to create a feeling of perpetual isolation. This morbid sensation of life being an unceasingly lonely affair continues to haunt Marlow upon returning to Europe. He feels permanently misunderstood, dismissing people as “in-truders whose knowledge of life was … an irritating pretense, because [he] felt so sure they could not possibly know the things [he] knew” (33). This quote reflects the change Marlow has undergone as previously, in the wilderness, he could not find human contact to remedy his sense of remoteness, yet now, when he is among people, he labels them “intruders” with an “irritating pretense”, which signifies the way his physical isolation has been gradually transformed into emotional. Through the portrayal of the austere landscapes of Africa, coupled with Marlow’s growing internalized sense of loneliness, the novella portrays the complicated notion of how isolation is felt two-fold, physically at first, and later spiritually, thus establishing a sense of involuntary seclusion.
Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a tale of exploration and travel, emphasizing the inner and spiritual along with the physical. While the plot is driven by a journey to Africa, the novella conveys a story about humans’ struggle to preserve their true self. Through a plethora of literary devices, the author portrays an ominous world, filled with unfathomable mysteries and problems, which ultimately leaves a person feeling isolated and forlorn. In the text, Conrad exposes the world as the miserable place it really is, and by allowing its lonely characters to somehow come to terms with the ill-boding, highly illogical order of things, he reaffirms the trifling nature of people’s existence.
“Heart Of The Darkness” Book Analysis
This novel is based on the experiences lived by Conrad as captain of a vapor belgian ship, he is one of the most important writers of the finals of the XIX, and beginning of the XX. Conrad was Polish and he learned to speak English until he was on his 20´s, right after learning french. The heart of darkness occurs during the period after the Scramble of Africa, on the final of the XIX century in which diferent European powers divided and owned Africa as if we were talking of a birthday cake. Belgium was seeking the precious ivory which was hidden on the heart of Africa, they did not cared about torturing and oppressing the natives to get it.
The heart of darkness narrates the journey of an ivory trafficker called Marlow, who, under the orders of the Belgium Company, enters to the jungles of Africa searching for a man called Kurtz, whose also seems to be considered as a god and have lost his sanity.The heart of darkness follows the nightmare trip at the center of Africa. In a british vessel called the “NELLIE” in which three different men listen the stories of Marlow as an agent of the Company, an ivory enterpirse. In the journey he presence the brutality, the hate between colonizers and the african aborigines. The relation between kurtz and Marlow changes during the novel, at first instance it is just a name for Marlow as we can see in page 42 line 3 where Marlow asks “please tell me who is this Mr. Kurtz?” and as the story continues he starts like venerating Mr. Kurtz as we can see in line 1 of the page 46 (just a few pages later of the novel) “Mr. Kurtz was an universal genius, but even a genius would find easier working with smart men and adecuate instruments”. As we can see just a few moments later he started confesing how excited he was of meeting ths Mr. Kurtz, completely different from the indiference he talks about him some pages before. His fanatism for him even leads him to say that he made the whole trip just for talking to Kurtz. During the whole book, Marlow seems like a good guy, but not particullary as an ethical one. He is no saint, because he doesn´t makes anything over the horribles scenaries of slavery in which he get involved, I do understand that it was also part of the period he lived in, it was not like if he was going to begin a civil right movement for black people on the XIX century, but he does make some little actions that show his compassion, for example: he tried giving bread to a slave who was starving, he treats cannibals in a decent manner, and when the helsman died he assured that the natives did not eat his body.
Another main character (who got my attention) is Mr. Kurtz, he is a very good agent of the Company. Everyone that knows Kurtz know that he is a very ambicious, charismatic and eloquent person, some adjectives he uses for getting advantages over other people. He ceded over the implacable and hostage african savagery which cost him his sanity. A very important fact about him is that most of the information we get from him are rumors, which make this character even more mysterious. The african natives adore Kurtz as a god. They know that the White people comming from upstream want to take Kurtz back, so they will attack them in order to keep him with them. Kurtz as a god is also a prisoner of his subdites, he can order masacres for every person that reveals, but he can not go freely. This character got my attention because it is strange and very interesting to see how an upstanding man who had responsablities can lose his sanity from one day to another and also from one day to another become a god for some natives. But also he was a niggard person, in lines 5 and 6 of page 65 there is a little conversation in which Marlow says “OH yes, I could Heard him say: “My ivory, my fiancee, my station, my river, my…” Everything belonged to him.”
The Brick Maker
There is this character which I certainly hate as much as Marlow does because he is a lazy person, this character is the brick maker, he is this useless worker at the central station. In some parts of the novel he is referred as the manager´s spy because he wants to get information from Marlow in a “disimulated” way. At the end we can see that his only goal is to ascend in his position in the Company, the narrator always refers to the maker in diabolic words, for example in page line 13 of page 37 he express him as a “Mefistofeles of papier-maché” (Mefistofeles was the devil in another novel.
And last but not least I want to talk about Kurtz fiancee who stayed back in Britain while he was travelling to Africa in order to make a lot of money. She is beautiful and some times she is related with the light and the sky. Marlow realizes how inocent she is when he talk to her because she think that Kurtz is a saint that travels to Africa to give away love and civilization. In fact she has no idea of how his real Kurtz is, she represents the behavior of the White europoeans of looking to the other side instead of looking at the bloody, brutal reality. We can see how Marlow talks about her in line 16 of page 64 in which he says “you should hear how he refeared to “my fiancee”, then you would realize completely how far she was from everything”.
This novel have very brutal and violent scenes that occured during the explorations of the European countries in Africa, but more specific in the Belgian congo, I never liked how our world treated black people in the previous centuries, I think they did not deserve how they were treated, and they suffered the same things that Mexico almost 500 years ago suffered, the conquered, the massacres, and the abuse from the developed countries that just wanted to take away the minerals, the materials and nowadays the petroleum. Africa is still suffering because there is scarcity of food and water, some of the people there is still treated as slaves, and the great powers of the world are still taking advantage over them.
I liked this book because it really gets you of how the things were back in the XIX and XX century specifically in Africa during the explotation of Africa, it narrates the voyage of Marlow and Kurtz of exploration to the Belgian congo leading them to the problems that imperialism brought for explorers especially for the original inhabitants of Africa, it also shows how things were between an imperial country such as Britain, Belgium and the Belgian congo, how the relationship was between natives and the Europeans and I could deepier understand the difference between imperialism and colonialism.
“Heart of Darkness” by Conrad as One of the Best 100 Books
Heart of Darkness, one of the best 100 best books, throws the light on the fierce and brutal imperialistic run of the European over the weaker nations like Congo. It portrays the life of the weak people and their poor circumstances amid the colonized period. It stresses on the brutal realities of the life in Africa. The novel is a criticism on the aims of western colonizers who in the desire for power and riches explore and exploit the unexplored lands. This novel is an exposition of the darkness which can be defined by fidelity and solidarity only.
Conrad’s first two works were based on his experiences of Malaya, Almayer’s Folly and An Outcast of the Islands (1896). His best work came in 1897, The Nigger of the “Narcissus”, a moving story of life on board ship. He tailed it with his numerous works in the next years. Heart of Darkness is exceptional for it’s portrayal of corruption, sense of evil and for its superb tropical foundations. It is just a piece of art, extremely great and intriguing. The art lies in the portrayal of imperialistic approach i.e., unsympathetic and barbaric relationship of the weak people of Africa and European colonizers who turned into an epitome of evil because of their long stay in the Congo. The novella has many autobiographical elements and its storyteller Marlow is considered as the mouthpiece of Joseph Conrad himself: yet regardless of their much likeness they vary a bit.
The primary section of the novel is a great blend of different themes. Every one of the themes are identified with two noteworthy characters-Charles Marlow and Mr. Kurtz. The themes used as a part of the novel are: of evil, of imperialism, of absence of self-restraint, of alienation, of the exploration of darkness and theme of reality and appearance. Every one of the themes are skillfully interlaced that they deliver a masterful message, brought together example or outline; and overall cast an impact over the readers psyche.
Lights of boats moved in the fairway — an extraordinary mix of lights going up and going down. Also, more remote west on the upper reaches the place of the enormous town was as yet checked unfavorably on the sky, an agonizing anguish in daylight, an offensive glare under the stars” And this also” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth.” (Part 1 Heart of Darkness) At the point when a truckle-bed with an ill man (some invalid agent from up-country) was placed in there, he showed a little disturbance. “The groans of this sick person” he said” Distract my attention, and without that, it is extremely difficult to guard against clerical errors in this climate.” (Part 1 Heart of Darkness).
The white men have constantly regarded the Blacks as the “other” and have constantly shown the world a theory of making the uncivilized into a civilized one. Under this explanatory theory of making the uncivilized civilized, they have controlled the sources of the colonized for their own desire of riches and power. Their cruel conduct for the colonized constantly portrayed their evil and cruel deeds. The lie of “civilized” Europeans is clear from their demonstrations of torment, cruelty, evilness and slavery incurred upon the people of Africa for the sake of educating and enlightening them. In truth, the Africans were simply toys to be used by Europeans in their demand for goods.
This act of imperialism is still in work in the contemporary world under the flag of globalization. The west is as yet colonizing our musings, culture, economy and so forth, if not specifically but rather in an indirect way. Imperialism” as defined by the Dictionary of Human Geography, is “an unequal human and territorial relationship, usually in the form of an empire, based on ideas of superiority and practices of dominance, and involving the extension of authority and control of one state or people over another.”(2) It is often considered in a negative light, it is mostly considered in a pessimistic light, as simply the misuse of local individuals keeping in mind the end goal, to enrich a small handful.
The Heart of Darkness is a recognized work of art of Joseph Conrad having the significant issues of world. Every one of the encounters of Marlow were Conrad’s responses to what he had seen amid his stay and journey to the Congo. White imperialism has been depicted through the different characteristics with whom Conrad came into contact. Congo was being ruled over by white men and their company, wild men and savages of Africa being their victims. I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here nineteen hundred years ago….Lights came out of this river since….It is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.” (4)
The most important note of the theme of imperialism is given by the storyteller himself, Marlow. This thought described by Marlow at the very beginning of the novel. Marlow talked about the ancient Roman captors of Britain. In history it is written that the ancient Romans were exceptionally savage and inflicted several brutalities on the Englishmen. The Romans stolen whatever they could get in Britain. As Marlow comments the victory of Britain seemed to be “robbery with violence”. Marlow didn’t feel the victory as an emotional pretense however a thought which was un-selfish. Every one of the victors could be pardoned! A victor could be pardoned on the off chance that he played out some worthy construct work in the country which he has forcibly taken.
Marlow didn’t use the expression White Man’s Burden yet he communicated this thought indirectly and was not imposing and preaching in the novel. The white man had some commitments and obligations towards savage individuals whom he subdued mentally and physically. He thought of different strategies to rule the country. Be that as it may his intention ought not to be humanitarian but rather helped the savages on moral grounds “Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth”! (Conrad1.6).
Marlow’s journey and his experiences in the Congo show that the white man was not fulfilling his responsibilities carefully. The white man was cruel and wild keeping in mind his goal to steal the ivory from them. Congo which was filled with mine resources was misused and exploited by the white people keeping in mind their goal to wind up noticeably rich and imperialist. Every one of the characters of the novel were insisting on ivory over and over and the people of Congo were abused and exploited by indulging them into the exchange. Mr. Kurtz one of the protagonist of the novel was so fixated on each that he once challenged to murder the Russian man only for a little amount of ivory.
Sandbanks, marshes, forests, savages-precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore.” (5) “They were men enough to face the darkness.” (5) “They were dying slowly—it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, and they were nothing earthly now-nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation….” (18) The white-men were selfish and fraud, wasting time and efforts of both their own and of people of Congo to pretend that they were constructing a better Congo. They began useless constructions without any aim of completing them. For instance, they had wanted to construct a railway scheme in Congo and the African people were compelled to work like machines. The poor Africans were moving like ants. The men were stuck with each other and were made work with no rest or overlay offered to them as a punishment. The people were experiencing sicknesses, hunger and death. The entire situation described by Marlow describes the callousness of white man over their subjects for their desire of riches and power. On the opposite side it depicts the miseries, sufferings and the tragedies encountered by the African people under imperialism.
Imperialism had its evil impacts over the colonized nations of Africa. The Europeans came from far off lands and took the lands of the natives. Right off they tricked the natives of the colonized countries for the sake of “educating” and“civilizing” them. What’s more, later abused them and took control over their natural resources. The Europeans took over nearly the entire world for their desire and greediness of tremendous riches and power. They ruled the way of life, the education, philosophy, and the political arrangement of the colonialized nations. They took the theory of White Man’s Burden over the globe for enlightening the ill-mannered and misused the locals. Their way of life, dialect, education, political set up, are as yet imperializing that of the colonized. Indeed, even following quite a while of the end of the colonization, the seeds which they have sown amid the colonized period are as yet growing out.
Conrad has not just disclosed share futility of the Belgian colonialist however at the same time reminds us about the British imperialist of his time. Around then all the African nations were not totally explored and the greater part of the nations of Asia were ruled mostly by British men. Conrad’s criticism of imperialistic gas is of great worth for both who were exploited and who the exploiters were.