Marlow's Assessment of Africa in Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Marlow's Assessment of Africa in Heart of Darkness


   Marlow's assessment of the African wilderness in the beginning of the story is like that of something that tempts him and his fellow explorers to Africa. When Marlow says, "And as I looked at the map of it in a shop-window, it fascinated me as a snake would a bird - silly little bird" (Conrad, Longman 2196). If we take note of the phrase "silly little bird" it may be noted that the Marlow is comparing Britain to that silly little bird. It could be that he felt Britain's occupancy of Africa was nothing more than his own country falling into a trap. It was not a designed trap but one of destiny. It was his countries destiny to fall prey to the allures of that Dark Continent. Millions would die in the attempt to make monetary gains while occupying Africa.

 

When Marlow mentions "the whited sepulcher" he could be referring again to his homeland, and when he makes this statement he may be referring to the fact that Britain has sent many of its people to be buried in that deep and mysterious place referred to as the Congo. According to YourDictionary .com, the word sepulcher means, "to bury" (YourDicitonary.com). In combination with the word white, referring to his Caucasian race, could Marlow be referring to the death of his fellow countrymen, or could he be referring to the death of a continent, Africa, at the hands of the white race invading her? These thoughts may both have validity when deciphering this text.

When Marlow describes the, "Two women, one fat and the other slim, sat on straw-bottomed chairs, knitting black wool" he may be describing the future of two races combined in utter disarray in Africa. He may be using the "black wool" as something akin to insight into what future had in store for millions of people both black and white in the Congo (Longman 2197). The "black wool" may be referring to black shards for covering the dead. It may also be an idea of not human death but the death of an area such as the Congo. He may have been sensing that the influx of his own countrymen may be taking away the spirit of that wild and forbidden Congo. Marlow's utterance of, "guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cherry foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes" could give more clues to Marlow's characterization of the African wilderness (Longman 2198).

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A feeling of losing strength comes from, "warm pall"; pall itself meaning to lose strength. When combined with warm we may look to the Congo as loosing strength due to the white man and his economic theft from this dark land. Marlow could see this and he was disturbed.

 

When Marlow described the shelling of the African shore by the French man of war it was if he was in some way attempting to defend the continent even though he knew it was too late. When he said, "There wasn't even a shed there" he was pointing out the vulgarity of the white man's treatment of Africa (Conrad, Longman 2200). His use of the term "man of war" demonstrates his impression that Africa was in a state of siege by his own race. Marlow was speaking to a man of war firing on nothing but a blank shoreline, or could this have been Marlow's deeply felt complaint against a continents rape by another.

 

This crime against the Congo and Africa did not go unanswered. Not only a human block of resistance but also one of a proportion unequaled met those who pushed into the interior of this great and mysterious land. When Marlow describes his journey into the interior he says, "And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention" (Longman 2215). If we could visualize these men daring to enter this land facing this, "stillness" we may see that they were facing a foe not human but that of a mass of nature itself. These men faced " inscrutable intention" of the continent of Africa itself. As Marlow describes his penetration of the continent it takes on a life of its own to battle the influx of men their for economic gains rather than to help build a better place.

 

As we look back at this body of evidence one phrase written by Conrad may best describe what he wanted to convey through the characters of this novel. When Kurtz himself mutters, "The horror! The horror!" it is my feeling that the author was conveying the horror, not of the characters, but that of a continent and its people concerning the invasion of a foreign people to better their own economic gains at the expense of a continent and its’ people.

 

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. "Heart of Darkness" The Longman Anthology British Literature. Ed David Damrosch. Longman. New York. 2190-2246.

George Wilson, Founder & Chairman. YourDictionary.com accessed May, 15, 2001. http://www.yourdictionary.com/index.shtml

 


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