Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Polish-British author Joseph Conrad, originally published in 1899. It deals with both the European colonization of Africa and questions of human nature, specifically “the heart of darkness” that exists within the supposedly civilized man. With luck this summary will help you with any research or essay editing you need on this topic.
The story begins with a framing device of several British men on a yacht in the Thames, including an unnamed narrator. The principle character, however, is Charlie Marlow, who notes that London, despite its prosperity and power, was “one of the dark places on Earth” during Roman times. He then begins to tell the others about his trip to Africa years ago, with the majority of the book told from his perspective.
Marlow, who always wanted to be an explorer, gets a job with a company that collects ivory in the Belgian Congo. There are signs that the job may be unsavory, and Marlow arrives at the Central Trading Station in Africa to discover one company worker has killed himself. The others often appear elegant and refined, but are ill-tempered or unsettling. There are African men working with them, but the white men often abuse or even kill them.
Marlow is set to go work at a station downstream that is run by a man named Kurtz. Some of the other traders hate Kurtz’s competition, even desiring his death, but no one denies that he is a genius, brilliant at everything from art to journalism. Marlow is eager to meet him, but is delayed at the Central Trading Station for a few months due to his steamboat breaking. He finally sets off on the foreboding trip, followed on the shore by natives who seem to doing mysterious rites. At one point they find firewood by an old shack with a note to keep going to Kurtz; shortly thereafter the boat is attacked by natives, through Marlow’s crew gets away.
They approach Kurtz’s station, which is surrounded by the heads of natives stuck on poles. There Marlow meets a Russian man whose clothes make him look like a harlequin; he was the one who left the firewood. The Russian extols Kurtz’s amazing oratory skills and knowledge, and Marlow learns that both the natives and the Russian have come to see him as essentially a god. Kurtz is sick, however, but resists leaving the station and his native worshipers, including one African woman who seems to be his mistress. It is revealed that he ordered the attack on Marlow’s ship to prevent them from taking him.
They finally get him to come with them, however, and Kurtz trusts his papers to Marlow. Among them is a picture of his “Intended” (fiancée) back home, as well as a book about Africa that Kurtz had been writing. Its quality disintegrated with Kurtz’s sanity, the last page scrawled with “Kill all the brutes!” Kurtz dies, his final words being “The horror — the horror!” Marlow returns to Europe, and after a year makes a visit to Kurtz’s mourning “Intended.” She is clearly still enamored with his previous brilliance and virtue, and Marlow lies to claim that he died saying her name.
Marlow finishes his story to the others on the yacht, who are silent.
The title of Heart of Darkness has a double meaning: Marlow’s trip takes him to the middle of Africa, the unknown and thus “dark” continent, but realizes that the heart of darkness is really within humankind. In particular the book is critical of the cruelty and greed that comes from the African colonization.
Kurtz is initially set up as an ideal man: he is full of intelligence, creativity and charisma, who has achieved much for his company and, supposedly, the Africans. More specifically, he seems to be the ideal European man, described as having ancestry from multiple countries; all of Europe, Marlow notes, helped to create him. Kurtz is thus a symbol of Western culture and its degradation into barbarism. The other Europeans Marlow encounters are only mildly better; they come off as unpleasant, abuse their African workers and wish death on Kurtz not because of his crimes, but merely because he presents unwanted competition for ivory.
Despite criticizing their mistreatment, there is some controversy about Conrad’s depiction of Africans. Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe wrote an influential essay editing the traditional readings of this novella, noting that even Marlow’s sympathetic descriptions always paint the natives in animalistic terms. None of the African characters are named, and only one gets an actual line of dialogue. Furthermore, neither the characters nor the tribes seem to have any real individuality or culture, merely being abused by the whites and flocking to Kurtz’s “enlightenment.” (Achebe’s own first novel, Things Fall Apart, is sometimes seen as a counterpoint to Heart of Darkness in how it depicts colonialism’s positive and negative impacts on the Nigerian Igbo people.)
John Grant is a professional book reviewer for several websites and UK papers.
No related posts.
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.
Leave Your Comments »