Nihilism in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Powerful Essays
Nihilism in Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) challenges readers to question not only society's framework but more importantly the existence of being. Through the events involving Marlow and Kurtz, Conrad communicates a theme of the destruction of Being, "including that way of being which we call 'human' and consider to be our own" (Levin, 3). This theme is more clearly defined as nihilism, which involves the negation of all religious and moral values. The philosophy behind nihilism is extensive and in its completeness connotes humanity's inescapable fate of meaninglessness. The extent to which various ideologists regard nihilism varies according to their own philosophies. Nietzsche represents the nihilism associated with the death of religion and in particular God, which he believes leaves "us without any values and any ultimate meaning in life" (Levin, 23). While Nietzsche strongly rejects the possibility of discovering meaning in absence of a fundamental source of values such as a God, Heideggar argues the possibility of a 'saving power' which may shield certain individuals from the abyss of self.

Conrad, like Heideggar sheds a more positive light on nihilism, with the implication that in spite of a deep void, one may find meaning in the complete knowledge of a hollow society. Conrad incorporates Nietzsche's nihilistic views closely in Kurtz, showing the tragic destiny of narcissism, while Marlow more strongly represents Heideggar's ideas of a 'saving power' in learning from Kurtz's dark experience and maintaining his own sense of morality and will. The effect and consequences of self-realization is contrasted through Marlow and Kurtz. Marlow's participation in imperialism exposes ...

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