moralhod Relative Morality in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

analytical Essay
1513 words
1513 words

Relative Morality in Heart of Darkness

It has been well documented by critics that modernist literature departs from the blind acceptance of beliefs, religious beliefs in particular, evident in literature of prior periods (Abrams 1). As Jump notes "[...] the modern western world is less sure of its values than most previous cultures with which we are familiar; relativism and subjectivity are facts of everyday experience" (15). Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is no exception. The novel does explore the place of the individual in an increasingly complex society, but Conrad's presentation specifically focuses on the moral dilemma of man in a godless world. The lack of Christianity or any other stable moral system to underpin moral decisions is evident in Heart of Darkness not only to the reader, but to Conrad's characters as well. Marlow's narrative presents both the human drive to have a stable conception of reality - a center - and the precedence this drive can take over basic moral decisions.

Conrad alludes to the forms of religious faith through the infusion of religiously connotative language into the speech of both Marlow and the narrator. The narrator describes Marlow as having "[...] the pose of a Buddha preaching [...]" (1, 11). This characterization is strengthened by Marlow himself when describing his activity before he leaves for the Congo: "[...] I was loafing about, hindering you fellows in your working and invading your homes, just as though I had got a heavenly mission to civilize you"(1, 16). The trip itself is then described as both a "glorious idea" and "the noble cause" (1, 20-21). The references to faith, Christianity in particular, set up a context in wh...

... middle of paper ... to seek out meaning while accepting that an absolute meaning may never be found.

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1993. 1080-1125.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness I. 26 July 2002.


---. Heart of Darkness II. 26 July 2002.


---. Heart of Darkness III. 26 July 2002.


Jump, John D., ed. The Critical Idiom. London: Methuen & Co., 1977.

Jean-Aubry, George. Joseph Conrad: Life and Letters. Vol. 1. New York: Page, 1966.

Ed. Marvin. Conrad: Collection of Critical Essays. Mudrick. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how the russian and the fiancée grasp onto the strong sense of power presented to them in kurtz without fully comprehending the implications of his own moral system.
  • Analyzes how marlow concludes that the exploitation of others is only possible because kurtz himself has no center.
  • Explains abrams, m.h., ed. the norton anthology of english literature.
  • Analyzes how joseph conrad's heart of darkness focuses on the moral dilemma of man in a godless world.
  • Analyzes how conrad reinforces the importance of perspective by including another level of complexity to temper even kurtz's evil.
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