Heart of Darkness



Joseph Conrad, like many authors, used his own experiences for the basis of his novels. Specifically, Conrad’s journey on the Congo River as captain of a West African river steamer formed the basis for his novel Heart of Darkness. In this novel, the narrator of the story, Marlow, Conrad\'s protagonist, travels up the Congo in search of Kurtz, an ivory trader, and eventually ends up in the “heart of darkness.” Conrad also used his pessimistic view of life for the basis of Heart of Darkness. Conrad’s fatalistic attitude is evident when he explained to his friend R. B. Cunninghame Graham: “There is...a machine. It evolved itself...and behold!--it knits....It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time, space, pain, death, corruption, despair and all the illusions--and nothing matters. I\'ll admit however that to look at the remorseless process is sometimes amusing.” In the Heart of Darkness, three evident themes include death, corruption, and despair. During Marlow’s journey into the “heart of darkness,” death, corruption, and despair became the manifest themes of the novel. First of all, Marlow came face to face with death several times throughout his voyage. Marlow finds out about the death of Kurtz, the climax of the novel, when the manager’s boy said to Marlow, “Mistah Kurtz—he dead” (Conrad 64). Another death occurs when the attack on the steamer leaves the helmsmen dead with “the shaft of a spear in the side just below the ribs” (Conrad 64). Marlow decides to “[tip] him overboard” because “if [his] late helmsmen was to be eaten, the fishes alone should have him. He had been a very second-rate helmsmen” (Conrad 47). Second, corruption overshadowed all other themes as the major theme of the novel. As Marlow’s journey progresses, the corruption of the trading business becomes increasingly obvious. Kurtz “had collected, bartered, swindled, or stolen more ivory than all the other agents together” (Conrad 43). Despite his reputation as a thief and a swindler, people in the ivory trading business regarded Kurtz as a “first-class agent” and “a very remarkable person” (Conrad 16). In addition, when Marlow came to Kurtz’s station to trade with him, “Kurtz … ordered [an] attack to be made on the steamer” (Conrad 58), even though Marlow came in peace. Finally, Marlow sees the despair of the existence of humans while in the “heart of darkness.” When Kurtz lay on his deathbed, Marlow “saw on that ivory face the expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair” (Conrad 64). Also, the manager told Marlow that Kurtz “suffered too much. He hated all this, and somehow he couldn’t get away. When I had a chance I begged him to try and leave while there was time; I offered to go back with him. And he would say yes, and then he would remain; go off on another ivory hunt” (Conrad 51-52). Clearly, Marlow saw death, corruption, and despair in the “heart of darkness.” In all, Conrad used his own experiences and his views on life as the basis for this novel. He used his experiences from his journey down the Congo River on a steamer for the basic plot of the novel. In addition, the themes of death, corruption, and despair describe the fatalistic attitude of Conrad. He saw these themes at the heart of human existence, and Marlow confronts them in the “heart of darkness.”




Bibliography:

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1990.