The Heart of Darkness

Marlow’s journey in Joseph Conrad’s, The Heart of Darkness, takes him into what he feels is the heart of evil, the Congo. Here European imperialism rules the country, spreading horrors and disease wherever it goes. During his brief visit to the African continent, Marlow’s opinion of humanity begins to change as he sees its potential for evil in others, and in himself. Marlow narrates the story of his journey through the Congo to his shipmates aboard the Nellie as they await the turn of the tide on the river Thames. He explains that it was his curiosity of the unknown that made him want to explore the Congo. As a child, the country was merely a blank spot on the map. It was not until the Europeans arrived that it became something more than that. Marlow arrives in the Congo to find a country full of “decaying machinery” (21), along with black people whose “every rib” (22) he could see. Marlow visits his Company’s station and then takes a 200 mile journey to the Central Station. He arrives here to the news that his ship had sunk a few days prior. Here he met the General Manager, who Marlow says “[inspires] neither love nor fear, nor even respect” (31). Marlow is told that he must wait for his ship to be repaired before going up the river to keep the station’s chief, Kurtz. Kurtz is continuously talked about by various people that Marlow comes across. Most admire him, and say that he is a great man. Marlow is excited to meet this man which he has heard so much about. Kurtz receives his ship, and makes his way up the river with his crew, consisting of twenty cannibals, the Manager, and some Europeans. The crew makes their way up river, only to be attacked by the natives of the land. Few are lost before continuing up the river once again to meet Kurtz. Upon arriving at their destination, Marlow is greeted by a Russian man, who is an associate of Kurtz. He says that the natives attacked Marlow’s boat as they do not want him to leave. The Russian says that Kurtz is sick, and despite being dismissed earlier, he stayed behind to take care of him. Kurtz is inside of a hut surrounded by heads on stakes. Marlow is not surprised by this, and has his men fetch Kurtz, and bring him aboard the ship. Marlow later goes to Kurtz’s cabin only to find that he is missing. Marlow follows a trail into the woods, and finds Kurtz. The man says that he has a plan, but Marlow is able to convince him to come back. Aboard the ship and on their way back to Europe, Marlow spends much time at Kurtz bedside listening to him talk. He takes a bundle of papers and a photograph from him, to keep them away from the Manager. Kurtz dies a later with his last words being, “The horror! The horror!” (105). Upon arrival back in Europe, Marlow gives the corporate letters he received from Kurtz to the Manager, but keeps the

private ones, and the photo. He finds the girl in the photo, and the two talk. When asked what Kurtz’s last words were, Marlow lies and says it was her name, as he felt that the truth would have been too horrific. In the first part of the Joseph Conrad’s story, Marlow tells of a time he remembers when he “came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn’t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush” (19). Being so early on in the novel, this event characterizes the European’s as reckless beings who see the African continent as a source of wealth, and nothing else. Men here lose their sense of civility. There was “a man who hanged himself […] the sun was too much for him, or the country perhaps.” (19) The weaknesses which men and their ability to be driven to madness. Living secluded in Europe, Marlow would not have experienced this to the same degree previously. All the rules in Africa are different than in Europe. The General Manager of the company in the Congo held his position merely because “he was never ill” (31). Marlow is amazed that a person who had “no intelligence” (31) could come to lead a company. While on the ship to fetch Kurtz, he acknowledges how the cannibals aboard with him had been acting more civilized than the white Europeans whom were accompanying him. This changes Marlow’s view of what the definition of ‘civilized’ really is. The African people do not seem like real beings. Marlow characterizes their movements saying they, “[move] about like ants” (22). When Marlow approaches a spot of shade, he gives no distinction between animals and the people of Africa saying, “black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees” (24). Upon meeting Kurtz, Marlow comes to the conclusion that the man has gone mad. In his mind, everything was his, saying “my intended, my ivory, my station, my river” (73). Kurtz had written in a report when originally arrived in Africa to “Exterminate all the brutes!” (75). Alas, after living in Africa for a while, Kurtz actually wants to stay behind and live with these people. After Marlow’s mission if Africa, his view on the world changed. He was once secluded in Europe, with no idea of the horrors that take place in the outside world. He had no idea the cruelty that others were forced into due to European Imperialism, and the grasp that it could have on a good man’s heart. A man like Kurtz, who the continent of Africa took and in drove insane. Kurtz’s passion to get as much ivory as possible and build his own little empire did this to him. Marlow showed signs of insanity in his hunt to get to Kurtz and talk with him. All men showed signs of change upon arriving in Africa, the heart of darkness.

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