Similar Themes in Joseph Conrad´s Heart of Darkness and T.S Eliot´s The Hollow Men

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Although Joseph Conrad’s famous novella, Heart of Darkness, focuses frequently on the corruption of Imperialism and Imperialist colonies, Conrad also heavily voices truths about the desire for personal gain—the heart of darkness—and how this yearning often stems from another person’s ideas, one who also seeks to gain. Similarly, T.S. Eliot’s, “The Hollow Men,” highlights the spiritual and emotional bankruptcy present in the aftermath of World War II, the fear of having accomplished nothing, and the almost certain submission to what can be called “Conrad’s heart of darkness.” In light of their similarities, both the book and the poem exemplify a universal concept: Many people will fail to think for themselves, which leads to the struggle between peoples’ thoughts, desires, and hopes, and their “stuff[ing]” themselves with the ideas implanted by others., which in turn causes them to be nothing but empty shells—absent of thought and emotion.
When Marlow’s comes to the end of his story on the Nellie, after Kurtz’s death, he recounts the reasons why Kurtz ventured into Africa into the first place. In his visits with Kurtz’s “Intended”, he realizes that her elegance, her “guileless, profound, confident, and trustful” face, and her desire for Kurtz to make a name for himself had forced him into going to Africa to discover riches. As Marlow retells it, Kurtz never had a desire to journey to Africa in search of a job in the ivory trading business, but because his engagement with the “Intended” “had been disapproved by her people” because “he wasn’t rich enough or something” (70) demonstrates the fact that he had no direction of his own—he simply followed what the world led him to believe. In this case, society highlighted his weakness thr...

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...and the novella point out a universal concept: The problem with the people is that they listen to the world, especially when society tells them that they are not good enough or are lacking in certain facets of both character and appearance. Heart of Darkness demonstrates this through the society’s view of Kurtz’s engagement with his “Intended” and how they judged him severely because he was not rich enough. “The Hollow Men” exemplifies this concept through its constant repetition of the couplet “we are the hollow men” “we are the stuffed men.” Ultimately, both of these pieces teach us that in order to completely truly be satisfied—unlike Kurtz, and unlike the men Eliot describes who in the end die “not with a bang but a whimper”—people must follow their own reasons rather than listening to the continuously rising standards of a society that is impossible to please.
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