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Manhood and Heroism in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness Essay: Manhood and Heroism

Civility, civilization and civilize, are they and could they be man’s defense against the power and mystery of nature and the primal nature of himself? When man lives away from refinement and education and is living in the natural habitat of sea, jungle, and forest, there can be seen a tragedy of a warrior, in the destruction of nature and himself.

In “The Heart of Darkness”, Joseph Conrad must go on a quest to discover the fire and passion in his male being and ignite the flame in his heart that is the fuel for his will to survive in the earth. The immediate relationship to the Thames River and his merging consciousness with that element, reflect back to him a memory of myth and history of all the archetypes of man and warriors who also as he, was engaged and moving in this famous passage. The sea has parted and has opened all past memory to the strong images that have crystallized before him of his first journey where man and sea began.

The sea is a man’s world where he goes through trials and initiations that test his manhood, and why? Is there an obsession in our past history and today with manliness and manpower?

If aliens were to study our cultures, they definitely would notice something very strange. It is our social obsession with manhood that is considered a test to be passed, which creates unnecessary arenas of war, and work that links man with the social stresses of protecting, providing and procreating.

In “The Heart of Darkness” there is the fear of a man not being man enough. The tragedies of a hero and the hazards of heroism are that the more he fights the enemy, the more he begins to be like the enemy; the more he kills beasts, the more he becomes like a beast.

Savage Cultures in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness Essay: Savage Cultures

Conrad effectively evokes a dream like image of the jungle by using language. He uses strong words to describe the natives appearances, characteristics and presumed behavior.

Very common in his descriptions are the use of very strong and erotic words like “wild ” and “intense”. For example the description of a boat load of natives paddling down stream is distinctly primitive. He says “they shouted, and sang… their bodies streamed with perspiration; they had grotesque masks…but they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality and intense energy of movement…”(78). In contrast a comparison, to the author’s description of a white, affluent, suggestively desirable race, made them appear artificial, sloppy and lethargic. Clearly seen in the following phrase, “flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly”(81).

Another obvious implication of a primitive and savage culture using language, which gives the reader the illusion of wilderness, is the author’s use of the word cannibals. By using the word cannibal the author implies a savage and uncivilized race, since both the word and the act are abrasive. Especially in context with the period this text was written in, 1910. Back then, the idea of natives in the jungle was a proven fact not a rumor or fantasy.

Already afraid of this reality the use of the word made the image of the native more frightening and convoluted. Whereas today, cannibals are hardly threatening at all since the likelihood of their existence is purely fiction. Ironically, Conrad is able to combine the use of this word with a very tender and humorous description of his crew, “Fine fellows – cannibals-in their place. They were men one could work with…And, after all, they did not eat each other before my face: they brought along a provision of hippo-meat”(104).

A last description of a native is of Marlow’s companion the “savage who was fireman”(106). He too was described to imbue the image of a savage as society had presupposed a native would look like. Marlow describes his native physical traits, beginning with a description of his teeth. He said ” -and he had filed teeth, too, the poor devil, and the wool of his pate shaved into queer patterns, and three ornamental scars on each of his cheeks.

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