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The journey into the soul of man in the classic novel heart of darkness

At the age of 17, he joined the French Navy and some years later, the British one even though he barely spoke English. In the following years, he travelled all over the world as a seaman, visiting and exploring what he considered the most exotic places he had ever been to. In the s, he went on a journey up the River Congo in Africa and this was a turning point in his life.

He was appalled by the European venture there, its methods and the treatment given to native Africans.

As a writer, Joseph Conrad would later draw on this particular experience. Heart of Darkness, which was first published in the early s, somewhat reflects what the author saw, felt and thought as a European in Africa during the colonial times. It centers on Marlow, an introspective sailor, and his journey up the Congo River to meet Kurtz, reputed to be an idealistic man of great abilities.

Marlow takes a job as a riverboat captain with the Company, a Belgian concern organized to trade in the Congo.

Marlow the protagonist of Heart of Darkness is philosophical, independent- minded, and generally skeptical of those around him. He is also a master storyteller, eloquent and able to draw his listeners into his tale.

Many like himself suppress these evil urges, while others like Kurtz succumb to them.

He has seen enough of the world and has encountered enough debased white men to make him skeptical of imperialism. One of the most enigmatic characters in twentieth-century literature, Kurtz is a petty tyrant, a dying god, an embodiment of Europe, and an assault on European values. Once he tasted the power that could be his in the jungle, however, Kurtz abandoned his philanthropic ideals and set himself up as a god to the natives at the Inner Station.

He returns more ivory than all the other stations put together, and does so through the use of absolute force. Heart of Darkness has an important message to reveal from its journey.

It is a dreamlike journey, an inner one. In order to reach Kurtz, Marlow has to isolate himself from society and to go through different stages.

On the physical level, these three stages are: On the symbolic level, it is a journey within oneself and within human nature. The deeper man moves into himself, the more he realizes his potential for evil. In every station he encounters a character who helps him understand the evil reality of man as well as his own. He is efficient but insensitive to the suffering around him.

He is indifferent to the suffering of the sick European agent in his room and to the dying African outside the window. Lacking humanity, he is self-satisfied in his vanity. He only becomes aware of the people around him when they make noises disturbing his concentration while reading.

The second station of self-discovery is the central station. The manager seems like a robot inspiring neither fear nor pity.

He keeps up appearances while plotting against Kurtz. In contrast, Marlow is exposed to the African cannibals who show notable restraints.

  1. The journey Marlow undertakes is seemingly in our own world, something which we reside in yet know so little about. In contrast a lot can be assumed about the methods of recreation and disposition of the white man.
  2. But once he arrives in the Congo and sees the terrible "work" as he ironically calls it taking place, he can no longer hide under the cover of his comfortable civilization. We know that Conrad himself had similar experiences to the narrator of his story.
  3. We are not able to see how the world views him. However, the deeper he penetrated into the somber stillness of the wilderness, he could not escape the realization of his vulnerability.
  4. Though Kurtz has an obsession with ivory this is not the sole reason for him to overstay his welcome in the jungle.

Step by step, Marlow discovers the darkness of the human soul. His conception of the blackness or the concept of the other as evil is undermined when he finds no moral darkness in the black inhabitants of Africa. Therefore, the blackness of the skin becomes synonym with goodness, and white invaders become almost the embodiment of blindness, selfishness and cruelty.

The black other is good and the white self is evil. In that inner station, the culminating figure is Kurtz.

  1. The fact that the woman is enshrouded in darkness with only insufficient torchlight to guide her says a lot about the nature of our society. We are exposed to forms of power from the time of birth.
  2. Could this frail human be the ever so powerful Kurtz?
  3. The culmination of Marlow's journey leads into the heart of darkness, or in a more worldly sense, Hell.
  4. Kurtz is also symbolic of the evil within our society, for people saw him as the "emissary of science and progress. Though Kurtz has an obsession with ivory this is not the sole reason for him to overstay his welcome in the jungle.

The portrait of Kurtz is built up before he actually appears. Everyone agrees that he is a remarkable person, but no one sees his real corrupt self in the beginning.

Kurtz is, therefore, constructed from the beginning as a great person who is feared, a great person representing evil. Marlow admires him, even before meeting him. Later on, the reader hears of Kurtz setting his face towards the depths of the wilderness. He is an egoist who keeps talking to Marlow of his own properties saying: Moreover, Kurtz participates in pagan rites and, for the sake of ivory, is prepared to kill the Russian who saved his life. Above all, Kurtz is aware of what he has done.

X Within Kurtz, the self is directly looking at its black essence, crying: This final cry reveals the darkest depth to which a human soul can descend: Kurtz is more than a symbol of idealism; he acquires a wider personal significance as a human being and ultimately is a symbol of evil. The heart of darkness is the unknown, the inner self and above all the evil in man. Marlow is, in fact, the mind that should control the unconscious.

Marlow, in this sense, says the following: He had something to say. Marlow through his exposure to Kurtz, Marlow gains a clearer understanding of his ego. He sees his own self through Kurtz. It is only at this moment that he becomes a whole person. He discovers his own nature through the example of Kurtz.

The reflection that Marlow sees of himself in Kurtz is a reflection of what he might be if he continues his way.

  • Is he seen as superior, a drone, a sailor?
  • They were raping the land, practically stealing the ivory from the natives, whom they were treating like slaves, or even worse than slaves, for slaves in America were an expensive commodity and therefore it was in the best interest of slave-owners to keep them well fed and healthy; these poor chaps, however, were allowed to starve to death once they fell ill;
  • There was a homologous hegemony;
  • Heart of Darkness, which was first published in the early s, somewhat reflects what the author saw, felt and thought as a European in Africa during the colonial times.

This reflection is rather a stage or a reality he becomes aware of through Kurtz who goes to the end of his journey to reach his own dark reality.

Marlow becomes conscious of the reality. Therefore, it becomes useful to his whole being and to the understanding of his ego. Once he gains a complete identity of himself, Marlow refuses to submit to it and modifies his ego by escaping from the potential horror that may be within him as well. He escapes from darkness and becomes enlightened about human nature. He returns to Europe a changed person and a more knowledgeable man forever imprinted by the horror that is actually within him as well as within Kurtz.

He could not tell her the truth; he could not make her suffer as he himself suffered when reaching darkness. She loved Kurtz too much to be able to discern his evil nature. This is how his journey of darkness changes into one of light. The darkness, however, can emerge and ultimately destroy the person if not checked by reason.

It is ultimately through self-knowledge that we gain the power to defeat our inner darkness, and all of its elements. Just as everyone has the potential for evil within themselves, we too have the potential for true goodness.