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An Enlightenment Of Morals Essay

1308 words - 6 pages

In the fight between good and evil, the evil never shows restraint. That is where the good classically takes the moral high ground. It is traditionally the role of the “good guy” to show his enemy mercy and restraint, while the “bad guy” has no such regard. That is often the true difference between good and evil, between civilization and savagery, between a righteous fighter and a cold-blooded killer. Their ability to control their instincts and urges. In his novel, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad plays with the roles of good and evil through his use of the concept of restraint.
Restraint is traditionally the habit of the “civilized” man. However, Conrad decides not to follow that ...view middle of the document...

This is Marlow’s most pointed focus on the concept of restraint. Within this passage alone, he uses the word, “restraint,” six times, which is nearly half of his total use of the word in the novel. He continues to use the word throughout the rest of the novel however, never in such a great quantity as when discussing the cannibals. But restraint is not his only focus in this instance. He also makes a point to explain what they were fighting: hunger. Marlow dives into an exploration of the deep, unshakeable concept of hunger, explaining that “no fear can stand up to hunger”(38), and that nothing can drive it away. He elaborates on the concept explaining that he would no more expect the cannibals to resist their hunger than he would a “hyena prowling” amidst “corpses [on] a battlefield”(39). The fact that the cannibals’ restraint so obviously astonishes him serves to drive home the immense strength of their resolve. However, their restraint serves another, perhaps even more important purpose as well.
The restraint shown by the group of “savage” cannibals throws a sharp contrast against the behavior of the “civilized” whites in the Congo. The first example of such an action can be found in Marlow’s description of his predecessor as captain of the steamship, a man called Fresleven. Marlow recounted that Fresleven had been working in the Congo for some time, when a circumstance arose in which Fresleven felt he had been wronged. He accused a shoreline village chief of stealing two hens from him, and when the chief did not return the hens, Fresleven “started to hammer the chief of the village”(6) violently with a stick. Despite this, Marlow explained that he had been told that Fresleven was the “gentlest, quietest creature”(6) on the planet. He was a civilized man, who would never stoop to anything a mundane as physical brutality. However, Fresleven mercilessly beat the chief, in a definite juxtaposition with his peaceful reputation, showing no restraint. The only thing that eventually stopped him was a spear-blade, which “went quite easy between the shoulder-blades”(6). Fresleven, the “gentle white man”, was only stopped by death, even though when his original quarrel had been over nothing but a pair of hens.
The second, more drastic example of a lack of restraint comes later in the novel, when Marlow meets Mr. Kurtz. Mr. Kurtz had been hired by the Belgians to obtain ivory from the Congo, and he was stationed deep in the jungle, many miles inland along the river, at the Inner Station. His station had eventually become the most productive and profitable station in the Congo. He shipped ivory out by the boatload, but was hardly ever seen by his superiors, as he rarely left his station, even to accompany the ivory down the river...

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