Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. First Published 1899. Published 1973 by Penguin BooksWhy?I chose to read the Heart of Darkness as I had heard much good about Joseph Conrad and his other books. My father told me that Conrad is regarded to be one of the best authors of all time, language wise, and this really peaked my interest. I have also seen and really liked the movie Apocolypse Now which is based upon this very book. This combined made me prefer this book to the other two choices.
SummaryThe story centers around the sailor Charles Marlow, who while onboard a moored ship on the Thames River outside London, tells the narrator about his journey up the Congo river. He quickly establishes a parallel between the two rivers and uses them as representations of the civilized Britain and the “dark” uncivilized Africa. Marlows was assigned by a company trading ivory in Congo to take charge of a stranded steamboat in the interior. Moving deeper into the treacherous jungle, he travels from the Outer- to the Central -Station and then onwards by the boat to his destination, the Inner Station. Along the river he witnesses the brutalization of African natives by European traders and hears tantalizing rumours of a particularly successful ivory trader, Mr.
Kurtz, who is managing a trading station far up the river. Mr. Kurtz is supposedly unwell and according to some rumours insane but Marlow moves onwards to meet him as his curiosity has been awoken.The passage through the African heartland, by steamboat, is long and slow. Marlow is filled with a growing sense of dread as the boat is attacked by African natives, killing some of his crew. Incrementally, Marlow learns more about Kurtz. He finds a well written pamphlet regarding the civilization of the natives ,but also hears about his god-like status over the natives. Upon arrival Marlow concludes that, in this alien context, no longer restricted by his own culture, Kurtz has gone insane, become a local tyrant, his honor and any humanitarian values he initially had upon his arrival in Africa have been exchanged for greed and power.
His reign of terror is soon to end, however, as Kurtz is mortally ill. On his deathbed, Kurtz whispers to Marlow, “The horror! The horror!” seemingly acknowledging the human depravity they have witnessed, the heart of darkness. Marlow returns to Belgium to deliver Kurtz’s papers to the trading company with a report he had written for “The Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs” but with Kurtz’s handwritten postscript “Exterminate all the brutes!” ripped off. Last of all he visits Kurtz’s fiancée, leaving out his descent into madness and giving her a lie about Kurtz’s final words, saying he died proclaiming her name. The lie and the whole experience disgusts Marlow with himself.CharactersCharles Marlow is a sailor, presented by the narrator as “a meditated Buddha”, having become wise and philosophic as a result of his experiences in the Congo. When young, Marlow dreamed of exploring the “blank spaces” on the map, always longing for adventure. His journey up the Congo, however, was anything but a thrill and it taught him about the “heart of darkness” in all men.
The chief qualities of Marlow include his curiosity and skepticism. He is always looking for an underlying meaning in what others may see as an innocent remark. Though he is not always an honorable truthseeker as he ultimately lies to Kurtz’s widow to spare her feelings. Furthermore he chooses to return to his home in Europe, living in the comforts and culture of the rich England despite him being convinced by what he saw in Congo that the modern civilization is a facade hiding mankinds inner darkness.Through the progression of the story, Marlow becomes sensitive and aware of his surroundings and the “darkness” they may hide. On his arrival to the Outer Station he is shocked by the utter disregard for human life he sees.
This makes it difficult to integrate back into the European society, having seen the horrors that sustain it and having the new beliefs of western civilization.Where and when?The exact time period is not stated in the book, but it seems to take place at the time Conrad is writing it in, namely the late 1890s. This assumption is helped by the fact that Marlow, the main character, is based on Conrad himself, who was a steamboat captain in the interior of the Congo during the early 1890s. He wrote the book immediately after his return. During this time, the British Empire was especially focused on African colonization and trade. Heart of Darkness centers around the ivory trade along the Congo river, which was huge during the late 1800s.
In addition, the novel clearly illustrates the British view of native Africans during that time. They were viewed as savages who needed to be brought under control, and certainly not as people. The attitudes of the white men in the novel all reflect this.
Please double check the accuracy of that paragraph since the Congo was at that time owned by the Belgian kind / Belgium; but apart from that your comment about the British Empire is correct.