Symbols, Setting, and Ironies of Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, is about many things: seafaring, riverboating, trade and exploration, imperialism and colonialism, race relations, the attempt to find meaning in the universe while trying to get at the mysteries of the subconscious mind. Heart of Darkness is a vivid portrayal of European imperialism. The book in other words is a story about European "acts of imperial mastery" (1503)-its methods, and the effects it has on human nature-and it is presumable that Conrad incorporates much of his own experience in the Congo and his opinions about imperialism into the story.
Beyond the shield of civilization and into the depths of a primitive, untamed frontier lies the true face of the human soul.
The "Dark" Human Side in the Heart of Darkness
The notion of what it means to be human has been explored through various literature and interpreted in many different ways. Through an intricate series of events and circumstances as well as man's perception of superiority, Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness reveals challenging issues of imperialism and colonialism and there devastating effects on society. As the novel's title implies, the "darkness" illustrated is the negative human side of brutality and discrimination. The deeper meaning and implication of being "human" is dependent on many factors including one's surroundings affecting his or her behavior and decision-making as well as man's arrogance and feeling of superiority taking ethical actions.
Conrad was a master of prose as many critics admitted, even those who proclaimed him a racist. The writing of Heart of Darkness was not only to show the potential of what man could become, but what he already was. Marlow is the everyday man, longing to become something that he cannot even fathom. Kurtz was the ideal man that Marlow, or any man for that matter, longed to become. Kurtz was tormented in his last days because he saw the evil that was in European trade and imperialism. In this, he finds a reassuring simplicity in the ways of the natives. Conrad conveys this theme to those who search for a quality that resides in all men, rather than seeking the errors of one group or person, which is what Achebe accused Conrad of doing as he portrayed the natives as “niggers” and “common savages.” The evils of society set in motion for what Conrad sought to banish from human thought. All men have the capacity to be evil or good, yet the one ideal that determines this state of being is the realization of what good and evil truly are.
Heart of Darkness and London were both written by writers who wanted to emphasize individuality over collective institutions. Joseph Conrad and William Blake, respectively, while separated by many years in their writings, both manifest the damage of a “civilization” where humans live within bounds. The authors argue that bounds, or principles, in civilization result in a society driven only by the thought of success. Both writers lived in a time during which their societies were undergoing rapid change. Conrad lived during the Age of Imperialism whereas Blake lived during the Industrial Revolution. In these two works, the writers argue that societies have become amoral – completely devoid of any questions of right or wrong. One example of this amorality is when Marlow says, “I…have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief.”
God and Sin in Heart of Darkness
A long debated issue that has plagued human beings since the fall of man is what leads people to commit evil actions and whether evil is inherent in all people. In the literary work of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Marlow grapples with those two similar issues. They way in which Charlie Marlow, the protagonist and skipper, goes about determining the answers are by observing his and other people's goals and motivations throughout his voyage of discovery and self-enlightenment in the Congo of Africa.
In Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, multiple characters change based off of the series of events that occur around them. The easiest character to pick out of the book is Marlow. At first, Marlow ventures out with the intention of civilizing the Congo, but as he arrives, he is in shock to see that there is absolutely no effort to edify the natives. "And also this," said Marlow suddenly, "has been one of the darkest places on earth" (Conrad 3). Here, Marlow comes to the realization of how human nature is inherently sinful through viewing how the natives are treated. As the book continues, Marlow's moral code becomes like those who he has surrounded himself with. For example, as the Helmsman is speared to death, Marlow acts in a
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness deals with a never receding and constantly approaching “immense darkness” found throughout society (Conrad 122). The looming darkness induces an “inscrutable intention” to place oneself above others and assert dominance. Though this darkness remains inscrutable it simultaneously contains tremendous significance to daily life: it provides an example of atmospheres which augment ethnocentric and greedy tendencies, so that we, as readers, may act with more care and awareness. Marlow’s narrative reifies the reality that one cannot escape ethnocentrism once it poisons him or her. Through analysis of Europeans culture in addition to the cause behind both Marlow and Kurtz’s corruption, one can gain a clear and explicit view
“It was as unreal as everything else- as the philanthropic pretence of the whole concern…” (29) This quote shows the basis that is represented in this novel, Conrad’s idea of reality can be related with a person’s self exploration. This quote is found in part one of the novel where Marlow sees the plotting atmosphere of the station since all the good things that Marlow have heard about the company were fake. Heart of Darkness, written by Joseph Conrad, is a story that follows the adventure of an explorer named Marlow. His journey up the Congo River allows Marlow to meet new people and discover the reality of Africa and the corruptness within. Although some achieves the perception of what is reality, some characters’ perception of reality changes by factors that has affected them throughout their journey of
Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol I. 5th Ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1986.
Abrams, M. H. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1993.