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Jacob Shamsian Period 7

Heart of Darkness: Free Response AP English Literature

2. The journey as a means of describing literal and/or figurative experience is prevalent in much
of literature. Talk about the journey in Conrad’s novel, telling what he says thematically about
its literal and/or figurative meaning. Use technique to support.

From Homer’s “The Odyssey” to Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, journeys have
had a prominent place in artistic work because of the easy parallel one can draw between a
physical journey and change of mind. Joseph Conrad’s novella, “Heart of Darkness,” is one of
the most celebrated works of this genre because of its multilayered narrative in which Marlow
and Kurtz not only enter the heart of the Congo Jungle, but also change emotionally;
intellectually; and, if certain definitions of the word are accepted, spiritually.

The different stations, Outer, Inner, and Central, best illustrate the significant theme of
perception of reality since Conrad used them to symbolize Marlow’s different attitudes toward
Kurtz at different times. Psychoanalytically, they also represent the Id, Ego, and Superego
respectively. When Marlow is at the Outer Station, he still clings to his excitement for adventure
as a reason for going into the Congo. He wishes to “fill the blanks in the map.” His excitement
misleads him into having confidence in Kurtz's experience as a voyager but this is mere instinct.
By the Inner Station, Marlow is much more uncertain of Kurtz’s character. He continues to see
him as an experienced traveler, but he begins to become suspicious of him – a more rational,
realistic way of perceiving him. At the Inner Station, Marlow’s perception of Kurtz reaches its
final stage in which he finally understands him as a terrible person, a firm moral judgment
established by the Superego. Kurtz violated human rights for the sake of mere materialism.

Furthermore, the very journey into Africa is a departure from civilization. Africa was
considered a harsh place by the Europeans who considered the African natives brutes and
therefore must become colonized. Conrad frequently brings up the dimness in the jungle during
the narrative; it is a symbol for the party's spiritual connection to civilization. Although the
Africans are indeed often depicted as savage (they are generally cannibals), Kurtz’s savagery
brings up questions of who is truly savage, an additional way the theme of perception is
explored. His imperialistic tendencies toward the natives indicate that Marlow (and therefore
Conrad since Marlow is an author surrogate) thought the European nations as the actual savages.
This is an intellectual journey from previous thought that travelling the world would be a
swashbuckling time to thinking of the realistic consequences. The ivory the party seeks is a
device which shows how violent they have become for something so trivial – a mere
materialistic trophy. Even the act of obtaining ivory from an elephant is inherently violent, not to
mention the lengths the party goes to to maintain it.

Marlow’s attitudes toward blacks at the beginning of the novella seem to be negative.
When describing the natives, he frequently mentions their dark skin at the same time that he
describes their non-European natures. By having him ultimately show sympathy for the natives
because of his discovery of Kurtz’s treatment of them, Marlow attitude toward blacks becomes
one of recognition of equality. He sees it is wrong to be imperialist upon them and it is therefore
implied that he thinks they should be treated with respect. Kurtz’s psychology also goes through
a journey; he is at first described with idealistic, noble qualities (such must have been present for
the Company to choose him as a leader*) which atrophy as a result of his presence in Africa.

*However, perhaps the Company was blissfully unaware of any of the character’s traits as it was
possibly riddled with inefficient bureaucracy. Evidence of this inefficient bureaucracy can be
seen by Marlow’s lack of a real job.