Eng1020E March 12, 2011
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Like every other sailor, Marlow tells a lot of stories. Unlike other sailors, there is literary
He has an episode as he has to save his friend being held captive in the Congos.
As we enter into the Heart of Darkness, we receive no illumination (figuratively). Maybe
in a world of darkness, there is no point of relief. Some have a desire to empty just
stop/end – even if there is no meaning.
As a boy, Marlow was charmed with the map of Africa. There is a snake-like river that
runs through, but gets lost in the depths of the country (like the reader getting lost in
literary fiction, left with loose ends). We desire resolution/answers.
Sickness (Marlow’s yellow complexion) is a modernist theme, and symbolic of Marlow
being infected by the heart of darkness (literally and figuratively).
He even sides with Kurtz – who is carrying out mass genocide – over the Europeans, as
the lesser of two evils. He does this because at least Kurtz (as a failed idealist) had ideals
at one point (even though he is a mass-murderer), they are worse than the capitalist
Europeans, who have no ideals or morals.
Marlow is autobiographical of Conrad, but also us. It questions what happens when you
put an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation.
He is questing to get Kurtz (who is obsessive compulsively hoarding ivory).
The journey to the underworld is the quest for the dark “other.”
As an Englishman, Marlow has been indoctrinated to see foreigners as inferior, and
bring knowledge to the savages.
Begs the question: Are any of us really free of our cultural indoctrination? We can’t
really escape our own racism!
Myth of the Other
o The other is the “not me”; black; African; non-European. Marlow comes to
realize that the other is really inside the self. Africa symbolizes darkness
(contrary to the European’s belief that they are light and enlightenment).
Perhaps the Europeans (including Kurtz) are more savage than the uncivilized.
o Going into the heart of darkness is going into the self (lust, ambition, corruption);
journey to the central (inner station).
Dopplegänger (German) = double goer
o An uncanny double; Kurtz and Marlow. Marlow has to enter the inner darkness
and save Kurtz, the madman.
o As seen in Kertz, it is grotesque, repulsive, and embarrassing to see how
ambitious we really are.
A pragmatic Englishman, Marlow is not focused on the philosophical quest, but surface
and basic survival matters. Staying on the surface life is doing only what is comfortable.
No one wants to see the dark horrors of existence.
Horrible moment of realization: Marlow realizes that the Africans are human. It is easier to dehumanize large masses of people (than individuals).
The monster is within; the ugly truth.
European colonists are the other, remote from the Congo’s natives and reveal themselves
to be more horrible and inhuman. IRONIC.
They were not above doing anything to these people (e.g. 1060 – the accountant).
Who is/what is the binary reality? – IRONY
“Kurtz lacked restraint.” (referring to his turn to genocide)
o Euphemism (a nice way of