Heart of Darkness is Joseph Conrad's tale of one man's journey, both mental and physical, into the depths of the wild African jungle and the human soul. The seaman, Marlow, tells his crew a startling tale of a man named Kurtz and his expedition that culminates in his encounter with the "voice" of Kurtz and ultimately, Kurtz's demise. The passage from Part I of the novel consists of Marlow's initial encounter with the natives of this place of immense darkness, directly relating to Conrad's use of imagery and metaphor to illustrate to the reader the contrast between light and dark. The passage, although occurring earlier on in the novel, is interspersed with Marlow's two opposing points of view: one of naïveté, which comes before Marlow's eventual epiphany after having met Kurtz, and the matured perspective he takes on after all of the events leading up to his and Kurtz's encounter.
Almost immediately after the start of the passage, the reader is exposed to the prejudices of the white inhibitors. The indigenous people of the area are repeatedly compared to animals, dehumanizing them and depriving them of the common respect that all people deserve, regardless of race or creed. On page 24, Marlow says "A lot of people, mostly black and naked, moved about like ants." Reinforcing this idea, he lends them other animal-like qualities, calling the sickly ones "creatures" and describing their movements as being "off on all fours...to drink," and even the act of drinking is described as the native having "lapped out of his hand," reminiscent of something a dog would do (28).
Another interesting employment of language used by...
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...s of the jungle, which sought to swallow him whole like the snake devouring its prey, sending it deeper within its body digesting it by stripping it of its layers one by one, paralleling the snake-like qualities of the river that drew Marlow deeper and deeper into its dark nothingness. And just like the Ancient Mariner, who is doomed to tell his tale for the rest of his life for the sake of penitence, Marlow, too, seems to retell his story of the tragic loss of innocence, of death and rebirth. Regardless of how many times the story had been told before it got to the narrator who eventually transcribed the events, it is one of great importance. It tells us that we must not judge a book by its cover, regardless of how convinced we may be of what is inside.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1994.
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