It was said by Thomas Moser that “in order to truly be alive one must recognize the truth, the darkness, the evil and the death within” (Moser, 156). Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, goes very far to explain and prove this statement. During the novel the reader takes part in a spiritual and inner journey through Africa and the mind of the protagonist, Marlow. As a consequence of his newly gained knowledge and experience he is able to exhibit his understanding of life and recount his journey into Africa. The Heart of Darkness explores the idea of self-discovery and the realization of inner evil through the characters Kurtz and Marlow and through the exploration of the dark continent of Africa.
Throughout the novel the reader only comes into contact with Kurtz through Marlow and the comments of other minor characters. Kurtz is a first class agent employed at an ivory station in the center of Africa. Due to his great ability to steal and kill mercilessly he is considered to be the best at obtaining ivory. Upon meeting Kurtz, Marlow considers him to be a remarkable man because Kurtz is aware of the darkness and evil in his own life and in the world. He also knows the “depth to which man is capable of sinking” (Dowden, 159). Through living in the core of Africa Kurtz has discovered the truth about himself. He is aware of evil and goodness, but lacks restraint and therefore, chooses evil.
Kurtz is, for the most part, alone in the wilderness, however, he is not alone in his wickedness. Kurtz’s inner evil spreads outward into Africa making it the dark place that it becomes during the novel. The local people have become corrupt due to Kurtz’s position of power and co…
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…den, Wilfred S. “I Start with Definite Images.” Joseph Conrad: The Imagined Style . Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1970. Pp. 39- 102.
Guerard, Albert J. “Conrad the Novelist” Cambridge Harvard University Press, c.1958.
Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness, A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism , ed. Ross C. Murfin. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989.
Montag, George E. “Marlow Tells the Truth: The Nature of Evil in Heart of Darkness .” Conradiana 3, 2 (1971-72): 93-97.
Moser, Thomas C. “The Uncongenial Subject.” Joseph Conrad: Achievement and Decline. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1957. Pp. 50-130.
Stewart, Garrett. “Lying as Dying in Heart of Darkness .” PMLA 95 (1980): 319- 331.
Wright, Walter F. “Ingress to The Heart of Darkness .” Romance and Tragedy in Joseph Conrad . New York: Russell and Russell, 1966. Pp. 143-160.
White and Black Women of Heart of Darkness
The Civilized, White Women and the Black She-beasts of Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness hints at some prodigious evil lurking in the soul of mankind; but this corruption — in its simplest form, the brutality and mammon-worship of Belgian imperialism — is hidden from the “innocent.” The “initiated,” moreover, either embrace the wickedness (as do men like the “pilgrims” and, most significantly, Kurtz) or resist it and become the enlightened — truly, “Buddha[s] preaching in European clothes” (Conrad 21). But it is the “innocents” — represented by European women in Heart of Darkness — who swallow the lies of a kindly colonial administration and multifaceted salvation for the heathen. If “Conrad was appalled by the ‘high-sounding rhetoric’ that had been used to mask the ‘sordid ambitions’ of King Leopold II of Belgium” (Brantlinger 279), he was surely also disturbed by the applause given such eloquent equivocation on the feminine homefront. Yet Charlie Marlow (like Conrad, enlightened during his unpleasant sojourn in the Congo) does not opt to rend the veil of female naiveté. Is the Buddha not compassionate — a bringer of truth? Why, then, does he withhold the light of dark facts?
Ignorant of the existence of chain gangs, groves of perishing Africans and the like, Marlow’s aunt talks “about ‘weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways'” (Conrad 27). Her nephew, about to step into the “heart of darkness,” might “venture to hint that the company was run for profit” (27), but she sees only the white man’s burden. No, her nephew must be no mere harvester of ivory and rubber. For her, he is a torch-bearer on the vanguard of civilization. Thus — noting her delusion — Marlow tells his…
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…man is civilizer, she is mother of savages.
Thus, Conrad paints a male world torn betwixt two feminine poles: the civilized, white woman who must — for society’s sake — be misinformed, and the black she-beast — antithesis to civilization’s order and trigger of primeval emotions.
Brantlinger, Patrick. “Heart of Darkness: Anti-Imperialism, Racism, or Impressionism?” Murfin 277-298.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Murfin 17-95.
Murfin, Ross C., ed. Heart of Darkness: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical and Historical Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Five Contemporary Critical Perspectives. 2nd ed. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston: Bedford-St. Martin’s P, 1996.
Smith, Johanna M. “‘Too Beautiful Altogether’: Ideologies of Gender and Empire in Heart of Darkness.” Murfin 169-184.