Heart of Darkness


Conrad\'s novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow\'s catharsis in the novel, as he goes to the Congo, rests on how he visualizes the effects of imperialism. This paper will analyze Marlow\'s "change," as caused by his exposure to the imperialistic nature of the historical period in which he lived.

Marlow is asked by "the company", the organization for whom he works, to travel to the Congo river and report back to them about Mr. Kurtz, a top notch officer of theirs. When he sets sail, he doesn\'t know what to expect. When his journey is completed, this little "trip" will have changed Marlow forever!

Heart of Darkness is a story of one man\'s journey through the African Congo and the "enlightenment" of his soul. It begins withCharlie Marlow, along with a few of his comrades, cruising aboard the Nellie, a traditional sailboat. On the boat, Marlow begins to tell of his experiences in the Congo. Conrad uses Marlow to reveal all the personal thoughts and emotions that he wants to portray while Marlow goes on this "voyage of a lifetime".

Marlow begins his voyage as an ordinary English sailor who is traveling to the African Congo on a "business trip". He is an Englishmen through and through. He\'s never been exposed to any alternative form of culture, similar to the one he will encounter in Africa, and he has no idea about the drastically different culture that exists out there.

Throughout the book, Conrad, via Marlow\'s observations, reveals to the reader the naive mentality shared by every European. Marlow as well, shares this naiveté in the beginning of his voyage. However, after his first few moments in the Congo, he realizes the ignorance he and all his comrades possess. We first recognize the general naiveté of the Europeans when Marlow\'s aunt is seeing him for the last time before he embarks on his journey. Marlow\'s aunt is under the assumption that the voyage is a mission to "wean those ignorant millions from their horrid ways"(18-19). In reality, however, the Europeans are there in the name of imperialism and their sole objective is to earn a substantial profit by collecting all the ivory in Africa.

Another manifestation of the Europeans obliviousness towards reality is seen when Marlow is recounting his adventure aboard the Nellie. He addresses his comrades who are on board saying:

"When you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents of the surface, the reality-the reality I tell you---fades. The inner truth is hidden luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching over me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows performing on your respective tight ropes for---what is it? half a crown a tumble---(56)."

What Marlow is saying is that while he is in the Congo, although he has to concentrate on the petty little everyday things, such as overseeing the repair of his boat, he is still aware of what is going on around him and of the horrible reality in which he is in the midst of. On the other hand, his friends on the boat simply don\'t know of these realities. It is their ignorance, as well as their innocence which provokes them to say "Try to be civil, Marlow"(57).

Not only are they oblivious to the reality which Marlow is exposed to, but their naiveté is so great, they can\'t even comprehend a place where this \'so called\' reality would even be a bad dream! Hence, their response is clearly rebuking the words of a "savage" for having said something so ridiculous and "uncivilized".

Quite surprisingly, this mentality does not pertain exclusively to the Englishmen in Europe. At one point during Marlow\'s voyage down the Congo, his boat hits an enormous patch of fog. At that very instant, a "very loud cry" is let out(66). After Marlow looks around and makes sure everything is all right, he observes the contrasts of the whites and the blacks expressions.

It was very curious to see the contrast of expression of the white men and of the black fellows of our crew, who were as