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Marlow’s wilderness is not vibrant nor majestic, nor is it boisterous in its vitality, illuminating and nurturing its lush bounty within its sensuous bosom. It is not a wondrous place, intoxicating with radiant color and a symphony of sounds those who journey into its interior. It is not quiescent nor serene, willing to reveal its secrets, easily subdued or tamed. His wilderness is a primeval, mysterious enigma that swallows light and sound, rationality and language, imprisoning them deep within its immense folds. It is fascinatingly savage, menacing in its power to mesmerize and lure, and finally to seduce the “bearers of a spark from the sacred fire” (67).
Many had set out to conquer it, dreaming of creating splendrous empires; others had embarked on a quest to extract riches, fame, and glory from deep within its heart; yet others had been beckoned by the irresistible call of the unknown. Lucky were those that could “glide past [it], veiled...by a slightly disdainful ignorance” (68), shielding themselves with the mantle of civilization, secure in their invincibility. Marlow was luckier than most, for the wilderness called to his “very heart [with] its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of [its] concealed life” (95); yet he was able to realize in time that it was but an illusion, a “deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness” (124), and to step back from the edge of the abyss.
He was good man in search of purpose and adventure, believing he would find his aspirations by sailing the waters of a mighty river. Upon arriving at his destination he was disheartened by the actions of his brethren, by their “conquest of the earth”, which to him mostly meant “taking it away from those who [had] a different complexion...than [themselves]” (70). Contemptuous of their beliefs and brutal behavior, their greed and deceitfulness, he went in search of a man considered “the emissary of pity...science and progress” (94); believing that in him he would finally find someone to guide him through the “silence of the land” (95).
However, the deeper he penetrated into the somber stillness of the wilderness, he could not escape the realization of his vulnerability. In that landscape he could either be “swept off without leaving a whisper or a shadow behind”(114) or infinitely worse, “the powers of darkness [could] claim him for their own” (126).
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Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Signet Classic, 1997.