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Comparing Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now

Parallels in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now

In the interpretation and comparison of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now there begins to unfold a list of similarities that can be linked to Arturian legend, particularly the quest of the grail. Marlow, or Willard can be viewed as the knight who has been sent on a mythic quest, the specific task being the recovery or assassination of Kurtz, the mythic god-man linked to the Fisher King in Arthurian romance. Conrad specifically modeled his novel on these legends, while Coppola expanded on the concept, using Conrad as a stepping off point and drawing from J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough and J. Weston’s From Ritual to Romance. I will examine the questers purpose for traveling into the heart of darkness, a void in the midst of a burgeoning jungle that has become a fecund waste land. View the quester as he comes in contact with a mysterious god-man or divine king whose own demise has contributed to the demise of the surrounding atmosphere, and how Marlow, and in turn Willard, deal with this figure, known as Kurtz. Finally I will discuss why Apocalypse Now fails as a recreation of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.


The Task of the Hero

In Arthurian legend a certain task is placed, or rather imposed upon the grail hero, whether that hero be Gawain, Perceval, or Galahad. He sets out on a journey with no clear idea of the task before him, except that he, at the bidding of King Arthur, must find the grail, and that he is taking the place of a mysterious knight that set out before him but was killed. The quest of the grail eventually gives way, as the story unfolds, to the knights healing of the Fisher King (the watcher of the grail), who has fallen gravely ill and w…

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… sun beats,

And the dead tree gives us no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock,

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.


Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness, New York, Penguin Books 1983

Weston, Jessie L. From Ritual to Romance, New Jersey, Princeton Press 1993

Frazer, James G. The Golden Bough(abridged version), New York, Macmillian Publishing Company, 1950

Malory, Sir Thomas. Le Morte d’Arthur, Oxford Press, 1967

Eliot, T.S. The Waste Land and Other Poems, New York, London, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1988

Colonialism and Imperialism – A Post-colonial Study of Heart of Darkness

A Post-colonial Study of Heart of Darkness

In this paper, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness will be examined by using a recent movement, Post-colonial Study that mainly focuses on the relationship between the Self and the Other, always intertwined together in considering one’ identity. The Other is commonly identified with the margin, which has been oppressed or ignored by Eurocentric, male-dominated history. Conrad is also conscious of the Other’s interrelated status with the Self, but his main concern is the Self, not the Other, even though he deals with the natives. As Edward W. Said indicates in his Orientalism, the Orient (or the Other) has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience.1 For Conrad, the Other becomes meaningful only so far as it gives some insight or information for the construction of Eurocentric self-image.

In Heart of Darkness, the story is set in the Congo, the literal battleground for colonial exploitation. Marlow perceives natives along stereotyped Western lines, even though he also manifests a sense of sympathy towards suffering natives. The natives cannot be understood or seen represented from their point of view. The colonial aspects in Heart of Darkness begin to be explored through Marlow’ perspective of history. Seeing history as cyclic, Marlow juxtaposes the Roman invasion with that of the present British imperial project. According to Marlow, when Romans had first come to Britain, they might have felt the same way the British did in Africa: “the Romans first came here . . . darkness was here yesterday . . . savages, precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink ” (9-10). …

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…lism, Racism, or Impressionism?” Criticism (Fall, 1985)

Burden, Robert. Heart of Darkness. London: Macmillan, 1991.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. ed. Robert Kimbrough. 3rd. edition. New York: Norton, 1988.

Lionnet, Francoise. Autobiographical Voices. Cornell UP, 1988.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.

———— The World, the Text, and the Critic. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983

———— Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1966)

Shaffer, Brian. “. Rebabarizing Civilization: Conrad’s African Fiction and Spencerian Sociology,” PMLA 108 (1993): 45-58

Thomas, Brook. “Preserving and Keeping Order by Killing Time in Heart of Darkness,” in Heart of Darkness, ed. Ross Murfin, (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989)

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