From Civilization to Madness: Exploration of the Effects of Imperialism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Coppola's Apocalypse Now

From Civilization to Madness: Exploration of the Effects of Imperialism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Coppola's Apocalypse Now

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The novella Heart of Darkness written by Joseph Conrad and the film Apocalypse Now, inspired by Conrad's novella, directed by Francis Coppola both involve the departure from civilization into a world of unknown. The protagonists of the stories, Marlow and Willard respectively, embark on a mission to search for Kurtz, a man who is portrayed as an evil genius in both texts. The majority of the plot unravels on the river, as the protagonist travel with a crew on a long, slow boat ride through dangerous dark jungles. This journey, presented similarly in both works, represents a path from civilization and the ideal to a place of madness and insanity. The theme of madness is prevalent in both the novella and the film, particularly evident in the scene of the natives' attack, and is used to emphasize the negative effects of imperialism.
Firstly, imperialism is explored in Heart of Darkness by the European colonization in Africa along the Congo River. Similarly, Apocalypse Now explores imperialism by the U.S intervention in Vietnam during the Cold War. With these events as the historical backdrops in both texts, Marlow and Willard travel up a river and journey from comfort and safety, toward the insane Kurtz, who is a symbolic result of imperialism: a completely mad man. In their respective journeys, the protagonists and crew members slowly fall into madness themselves as they travel closer to Kurtz. A scene that is shared in both works is when the protagonists' boats are under attack by the natives. In this scene, Conrad and Coppola both illustrates the theme of madness using the driver of the boat--the helmsman in Heart of Darkness and Chief in Apocalypse Nows.

In Heart of Darkness, Conrad brings the readers' attention to the helmsm...


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... madness and the theme. As Chief concludes that Willard’s imperialistic orders and attitudes are hopeless, the screen is split, Chief’s side is dark and gloomy while Willard’s is light and green. This contrast mirrors Chief's mad state contrasting with Willard’s sanity. Coppola uses the technique again to contrast Chief’s madness with the clear sky and sun which shines past Chief at the viewer. The skies are calm but Chief obviously is not, emphasising Chief’s insanity further.

Madness is an important theme in both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now. Conrad and Coppola both effectively present it with prominence using the boat driver character to portray the theme and also use subtle contrasting techniques to pair the madness with imperialism. Conrad and Coppola use similar ideas and effectively execute the presentation of the theme with the medium of their text.

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