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Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad Essay

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Updated: Jan 15th, 2022

Heart of Darkness, a novel par excellence, was written by Joseph Conrad in 1902. It is a voyage through the murky essence of mankind. The story begins aboard a boat wedged on the river Thames due to an inundation, and is based on Charles Marlow’s (the main character) brief narration of his childhood and his stint as a river-boat captain in Africa. “Now when I was a little chap I had as passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration…” said Marlow about his childhood. There were four other men on the boat but none was named by Conrad. As they waited for the tide to subside, the change in the skyline from bright to gloomy corresponds the storyline. Basically, Heart of Darkness explores the murky Congo wasteland, the brutal conduct of the Belgians towards the natives of Africa and the obscurity of human beings.

According to the story, Marlow was employed by a company to transport ivory and to stealthily sneak out Kurtz, another ivory trader. Kurtz, by virtue of his management tactics, was able to earn a reputation and had collected huge quantities of ivory. During his stay in Africa, Kurtz gradually got inclined towards corruption and made himself a demigod. The boss of the company felt threatened by Kurtz’s existence and wanted to collapse his reputation. So Marlow was entrusted the job of bringing back Kurtz.

Marlow was not happy with his fellow white workers because they considered him as being trivial and deceitful. In the course of his assignment, Marlow reached the Central Trading Station that was managed by a manager who has been depicted as nasty and malevolent. Marlow’s suspicion on the manager was augmented when one day he found that his ship had sunk. He was sure that the manager had something to do with it. Poor Marlow had to toil and wait for a couple of months to get his ship repaired. It seems Kurtz was ill and this was one of the reasons for the delay because Marlow had to take him along. This was the period when Marlow came to understand that the manager was deadly against Kurtz and wanted to get rid of him. But the show must go on. That’s what Marlow thought and he set out on a tedious voyage along with the manager, some white negotiators and a crew of black cannibal tribesmen. “Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings…” While on their way up river, they fell into a trap. For the need of fire wood, they stopped to collect some that was laid on the river bank with a note, “When deciphered it said: ‘Wood for you. Hurry up. Approach cautiously’”. As soon as they resumed sail, the ship was surrounded by a thick fog and was trounced by a gang of concealed inhabitants, who shot arrows from the forest. Marlow was saddened by the death of one of the crew members (black) in the encounter. By now, he was sure that the same inhabitants might have killed Kurtz and his people as well. But his assumption was proved wrong when they reached Kurtz’s post, which seemed to be unscathed. A Russian greeted Marlow and his crew. He was a simple trader when he came in contact with Kurtz. Since then he became a sort of disciple. The Russian relieved Marlow by informing that everything was fine and under control. He, being honest and straightforward, acquainted Marlow with the fact that it was Kurtz who had ordered the attack on their ship. It was the Russian who had left the firewood near the river bank. As per the Russian’s statement, Kurtz stooped to this mean act because he was afraid of being taken back.

Since Kurtz was feeble and weak due to his illness, Marlow and his men helped him board the ship. Mission accomplished, Marlow and his men set sail. Although Marlow was not impressed by the way Kurtz dealt with people, yet keeping in mind his reputation, he lodged him in his pilot house. During their return voyage, Kurtz was doubtful about the manager’s intentions. So he handed over some important documents and a photograph to Marlow. “One morning he gave me a packet of papers and a photograph – the lot tied together with a shoe-string. ‘Keep this for me,’ he said. ‘This noxious fool’ (meaning the manager) ‘is capable of prying into my boxes when I am not looking’”. The photograph, as per Kurtz, was of “his intended”. Then the night of death (Kurtz’s) arrived. Marlow was with Kurtz when he spoke his last words, “The horror! The horror!” These words can be interpreted in different ways. But Marlow thought that these words were of Kurtz’s remorseful soul, repenting for his iniquitous deeds.

Marlow didn’t intend to break the news of Kurtz’s demise instantly but the manager’s child servant, who had been a veiled spectator, disdainfully told all the crew members about the incident. “Mistah Kurtz – he dead.”

After reaching Europe and after a year of confrontation with people in quest of Kurtz’s stuff and beliefs, Marlow went to meet Kurtz’s fiancée. When he saw her mournful state, instead of telling her the truth, he told her that Kurtz died uttering her name. “The last word he pronounced was – your name.”

The story concludes here and by now it was totally dark on the Thames which gave an impression that it was leading into a heart filled with enormous gloom.

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