Heart of Darkness Essay

JOSEPH CONRAD\'S -Heart Of Darkness

Joseph Conrad¹s novel Heart of Darkness is about a seaman named
Charlie Marlow and an experience he had as a younger man. Early in
the novel it becomes apparent that there is a great deal of tension
in Marlow¹s mind about whether he should profit from the immoral
actions of the company he works for which is involved in the ivory
trade in Africa. Marlow believes that the company is ignorant of the
tension between moral enlightenment and capitalism . The
dehumanization of its laborers which is so early apparent to Marlow
seems to be unknown to other members of the Company¹s management.
In this story Marlow¹s aunt represents capitalism. Her efforts to get
him a job are significant because of the morally compromising nature
of the work of which she seems totally ignorant. When Marlow expresses
doubts about the nature of the work, she replies, ³You forget, dear
Charlie, that the labourer is worthy of his hire² (12). It is clear
that Marlow has mixed feelings about the whole idea. At one point,
trying to justify his actions to himself, he says, ³You understand it
was a continental concern, that Trading Society; but I have a lot of
relations on the living continent, because it¹s cheap and not so nasty
as it looks they say² (12). Marlow finally takes the job, however,
and tells himself that the pain and unusually harsh treatment the
workers are subjected to is minimal.
During the tests and the requirements that he has to undergo before
entering the jungle Marlow feels that he is being treated like a
freak. The doctor measures his head and asks him questions such as,
³Ever any madness in your family?² (15). In this part of the story
Marlow is made to feel small and unimportant. Any feelings or
concerns that he has are not important to the company, and as a
result, he feels alone. It is only logical that Marlow would have been
second guessing his decision and feeling some kinship with the other
(black) workers who are exploited, but he does not reveal any such
Upon reaching his destination in Africa, Marlow finds that things are
just the same. At the point when he is denied rest after traveling
twenty miles on foot he sees things are not going to change. Marlow
then tells of how disease and death are running wild through out the
area, and the company does nothing in the way of prevention other than
to promote those who stay alive. Marlow¹s theory on why the manager
was in that position was that ³...he was never ill² (25). This is a
bad situation for Marlow because he sees his boss as a simple man with
little else to offer the company other than to be a mindless foreman
over the operation. This is an example of the company stripping self
worth from its workers in the sense that it does not encourage or
expect input from them. This is all significant because Marlow finds
himself in a position where he is giving up a big piece of himself and
his beliefs to make money.
The tension between capitalism and moral enlightenment in the first
twenty pages of this story is evident. Conrad uses Marlow to depict a
seemingly good-hearted person caught in the middle of the common
dilemma of moral ethics and desire for monetary success. Marlow knows
that there is a great deal of repugnance in what he is doing, yet he
finds himself forced to deal with it in his own personal way, which is
justify it or ignore it. It is clear that the company also is forced
to deal with this same issue, but it does it simply by pretending that
it is not dehumanizing its entire work force. This blindness allows
the Company to profit and prosper, but only at the expense of the
lives of the workers in the jungle who have no way to protest or
escape and the ³white collar² workers like Marlow who have to live
with their hypocrisy.