A Journey into Darkness in Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad, in his story, "Heart of Darkness," tells the
tale of two mens' realization of the dark and evil side of themselves.
Marlow, the "second" narrator of the framed narrative, embarked upon a
spiritual adventure on which he witnessed firsthand the wicked potential in
everyone. On his journey into the dark, forbidden Congo, Marlow encountered
Kurtz, a "remarkable man" and
"universal genius," who had made himself a god in the eyes of the natives
over whom he had an imperceptible power. These two men were, in a sense,
images of each other: Marlow was what Kurtz may have been, and Kurtz was
what Marlow may have become.
Like a jewel, "Heart of Darkness" has many facets. From one view it
is an exposure of Belgian methods in the Congo, which at least for a good
part of the way sticks closely to Conrad's own experience. Typically,
however, the adventure is related to a larger view of human affairs.
Marlow told the story one evening on a yacht in the Thames estuary as
darkness fell, reminding his audience that exploitation of one group by
another was not new in history. They were anchored in the river, where
ships went out to darkest Africa. Yet, as lately as Roman times, London's
own river led, like the Congo, into a barbarous hinterland where the Romans
went to make their profits. Soon darkness fell over London, while the
ships that bore "civilization" to remote parts appeared out of the dark,
carrying darkness with them, different only in kind to the darkness they
These thoughts and feelings were merely part of the tale, for Conrad
had a more personal story to tell, about a single man who went so far from
civilization that its restraints no longer mattered to him. Exposed to the
unfamiliar emotional and physical demands of the African wilderness, free
to do exactly as he chose, Kurtz plunged into horrible orgies of which
human sacrifice and cannibalism seemed to have formed a part. These
excesses taught him and Marlow what human nature was actually like: "The
horror!" Kurtz gasped before he died. Marlow's own journey from Belgium to
the Congo and thence up the river then took on the aspect of a man's
journey into his own inner depths. Marlow was saved from the other man's
fate not by higher principles or a better disposition, but merely because
he happened to be very busy, and the demands of work were themselves a
discipline. The readers perceive, too, that other white men on the Congo
refrained from such excesses, if they did so, only because they had lesser,
more timorous natures which did not dare to express themselves completely.
Marlow felt that he had taken the lid off something horrible in the very
depths of man which he could not explain when he returned to...