Reality and Illusion in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

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Reality and Illusion in Heart of Darkness

Fact is very important to Marlow. Facts are comprehensible. Evil isn’t a supernatural force or a force in opposition to god or life, but that which is incomprehensible to Marlow. The life of the Africans and the power of the jungle—or the larger reality of humanity—is evil in its incomprehensibility. The supreme morality is restraint, and comprehension of the jungle or acceptance of its incomprehensibility becomes symbolic for the absence of restraint in man. Purpose is good in its comprehensibility. When Marlow speaks derisively of the French man-of-war shelling an invisible ‘enemy’ to no purpose it is because he finds its actions ‘incomprehensible.’ Before Marlow becomes engaged in the jungle, what he finds supremely comprehensible, what he feels gives purpose, is nature, and he recognizes meaning as sound, voice, or movement.

‘The idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea, the uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me away from the truth of things, within the toil of a mournful and senseless delusion. The voice of the surf heard now and then was a positive pleasure, like the speech of a brother. It was something natural, that had its reason, that had a meaning.’ (Conrad, 40).

This early passage shows Marlow’s affinity for sound (especially speech or voice), movement, and labor. Marlow’s reality when he embarks for the Congo is defined primarily by work, distinguished by movement, represented by voice, and saturated with meaning. As he goes deeper into the heart of darkness this reality alters and silence is the bearer of meaning that Marlow refuses to understand. Work becomes p...

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...ilanthropy implied is a ‘sentimental pretence’ and not an ‘idea’, is merely an arrogance conceived by civilized, deluded man. But one that he would, nevertheless, like to embody.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Editor Robert Kimbrough. New York: Norton, 1988.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Editor Paul O’Prey. Middlesex: Penquin Books Ltd., 1983.

Cox, C. B. Conrad: Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and Under Western Eyes. London: Macmillan Education Ltd., 1987.

Guetti, James. ‘Heart of Darkness and the Failure of the Imagination’, Sewanee Review LXXIII, No. 3 (Summer 1965), pp. 488-502. Ed. C. B. Cox.

Ruthven, K. K. ‘The Savage God: Conrad and Lawrence,’ Critical Quarterly, x, nos 1& 2 (Spring and Summer 1968), pp. 41-6. Ed. C. B. Cox.

Watts, Cedric. A Preface to Conrad. Essex: Longman Group UK Limited, 1993.
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