In the "Heart of Darkness" Analysis, the mind of a European, Joseph Conrad, is reflected in what he has seen as the actual brutal nature of man. Joseph Conrad himself had been to the Congo where he witnessed the horror civilization embodies. He writes that civilization is only a veneer of the brutal nature of man. The "the Heart of Darkness" is a narrative that contains Joseph Conrad’s perspective about civilization and imperialism.
The book opens with Marlow who has been hired as a steamboat captain. The narrator tells the reader of a ship, the Nellie, which leans at anchor at the mouth of River Thames. The Nellie had 5 men on it: the Director of Companies who is described as the host, the Lawyer, the Narrator himself, the Accountant and Marlow who recounts his story.
By describing the men by their profession, the hollowness of civilization that doesn't recognize humans but by their profession. An identity that shields their humanity.
The five men are bound together by the sea, they watch the sunset in silence as the narrator thought about conquest and colonialism. The narrator nurtures that great men with great dreams embark on a conquest to build great empires for the glory of the world. Like the sunset, however, the 5 men recall great men who had explored parts of the dark places of the earth, Africa, setting off from the Thames.
Marlow on his path recounts that even England was also a dark place before the conquest of the Romans. He, however, exonerates the civilization mission of Europe by saying that conquest involves taking land from the less powerful, a wicked act which is only justified by the idea behind them. An idea which is the civilization idea to save savages and build great empires.
Marlow remembers his experience as a fresh-water sailor as a young man in the Congo River. He says that as a young boy, he was passionate about maps and the places he hasn’t known. He remained fascinated by Africa and the River Congo. Through the influence of his aunt, he joined a Continental European trading company that operates in Africa. He says that the Belgian company was eager to replace him with Fresleven who had been accidentally killed by a chief’s son in Africa after wrestling with the chief.
The company sent him to Africa. Marlow had described the European city where the company's headquarters is located as a whited sepulcher. This means that the sepulcher being a tomb hides its heart in its emptiness and death. Joseph Conrad intends to show the true nature of the horror of man by using this dark symbol of a sepulcher.
The narrative of the "Heart of Darkness" is based on Marlow’s encounter in Africa. As the steamer sails him to the mouth of the Congo, he had a sense of foreboding. He is interested in exploring unknown places but when he saw Africa, it appears to invite him and also scorn him. This implies that Africa appears to resist the adventure of “noble” colonialists.
Marlow saw the French firing at a dense forest once, he says they fire at invisible enemies. He doesn't understand this because there was no offensive. It brings to mind why the doctor in the Company's headquarters checked his head and asked if his family has cases of insanity. By this context of insanity, it seems to express that the natives in Africa do ridiculous things which makes the whites want to shoot them just as the French shot at a defenseless dense forest.
In the Outer Station where Marlow stayed, he was told by the Chief Accountant that he would meet with Mr. Kurtz in the Inner Station, a station that sends much ivory to Europe. The Chief Accountant talks of Mr. Kurtz in esteemed ways which made Marlow eager to meet him.
Marlow later joins a caravan from which he got to the General Manager who tells him the steamboat which he should pilot the sick Mr. Kurtz sank and it would take about 3 months to repair. Marlow noticed and realized the General Manager’s disgust for Mr. Kurtz because Kurtz sends more ivory to Europe and it ruins his greedy plans.
Marlow is stuck with men who had duties but doesn’t work which made him describe the place as unreal. On that night, he met a Brickmaker who suggests that Mr. Kurtz is moral and is a threat to the General Manager just as Marlow would be because the same connection brought him and Marlow to the company. However, an important feature of this event is (in Marlow's mind) the growth of Mr. Kurtz's morality as an antidote to the evils in civilization, evil characterized by greed and brutality.
After devising that repairing the ship is a prerequisite to finding Kurtz, he hastened up. He breaks the story and talks about how hard it is to talk about his experience when his colleagues, the men on Nellie, sees him and knows about him. Just as he says this, the narrator describes the darkness of the night, an irony which shows that they could not see him.
Back to Marlow's story, he says he values work as it occupies his mind and in it is the ability to find himself. Marlow expresses that the mission of enlightening the natives is horrific because of their savage culture. He, however, argues that a kinship exists between the natives and the Europeans but the kinship is ugly, horrifying and distant.
Marlow fixes the ship and set sail with Pilgrims and the General Manager. The long trip was long and hard. With native drums resounding throughout the night, the morning was overwhelmed with fogs that blinded them. They were then attacked before they reached the Inner Station where they were to rescue Mr. Kurtz. Marlow lost his helmsman, a native who steered his ship. He sought solace in the fact that the helmsman worked, he steered the ship.
At the Inner Station, he met with a Russian trader who tells him of Mr. Kurtz’s eloquence and how the native adore him. In this, the trader also talks about Kurt’s brutal nature and how he has become a god to the natives nonetheless. When Mr. Kurtz was taken on a stretcher, a mistress of Kurtz and the natives appeared to riot but Mr. Kurtz calmed and dismissed them.
That night, he woke up to find Mr. Kurtz crawling towards the camp of the natives. Marlow persuades Kurtz to return with him or he’ll be lost. He bids him and later, on the next day, while traveling, the steamship breaks down and Mr. Kurtz knew he will neither see Europe nor his Intended. He gave his papers to Marlow because he was afraid that the General Manager will pry on them. Mr, Kurtz tells Marlow that he is waiting for death with his face smeared of a sober pride, embodied with ruthless power and despair.
Mr. Kurtz's last words, "the horror! The horror!" shows that the darkness in man's heart pervades the civilization he preaches and in the end, man judges himself as Mr. Kurtz did with his final words. Marlow himself fell sick but he later delivered a letter to Mr. Kurtz's Intended who asked him what his last words were. Marlow couldn't ruin the romantic delusions she had, he said that his last words were her name.
"Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad
"Heart of Darkness" Summary from https://www.litcharts.com/lit/heart-of-darkness/summary
"Heart of Darkness" Part 1 Summary & Analysis from https://www.litcharts.com/lit/heart-of-darkness/part-1
"Heart of Darkness" Part 2 Summary & Analysis from http://www.litcharts.com/lit/heart-of-darkness/part-2
"Heart of Darkness" Part 3 Summary & Analysis from https://www.litcharts.com/lit/heart-of-darkness/part-3
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