Character Growth in Conrad's Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness explores the intellectual, emotional and moral growth of characters throughout the novella. This character growth has been a recurring theme in literature, with the poet William Blake, among many others, exploring theories of the movement between innocence to experience. Although Conrad does not strictly address character growth in this manner, characters that do and do not undergo psychological growth are portrayed quite differently. Those who undergo these psychological changes are portrayed favorably, that is Marlow, the frame narrator, and Kurtz. These characters throughout the novel undergo significant change, for some it is gradual (Marlow), but for others such as Kurtz, this growth or realization occurs rapidly, and almost too late. While European colonialists - characters that do not grow, or remain at the stagnant psychological level - are used to represent the anti-colonialism theme to the readers. Conrad utilizes characters, and their psychological growth (or lack of growth) to distance himself from the narrative and endorse or criticize many themes that would be seen as revolutionary in the context of its publication. A large gap is then depicted between the characters who grow, portrayed as "enlightened" beings, and the pilgrims and European colonialists, who are seen in a colonial point of view as perfect examples of good, however portrayed by Conrad as stagnant, "Hollow men", whose aims and ideals are criticized.
The frame narrator, although not a major character in the novella, undergoes significant psychological growth throughout the text. This growth can be broadly divided into three phases - the initial optimistic view of colonialism, followed by the ambivalent change inferred throughout the body of the novella, to the final conclusion of the frame narrator. At the start of the novella, the reader is faced with the frame narrator’s thoughts, feelings and opinions, which in relation to colonialism are rather optimistic and naïve to the reality Marlow later reveals. The setting is the river Thames, London, where the Nellies narrator says "the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway", going on to say "the biggest, and greatest town on earth", and expressing colonialism as "the dreams of men, the seed of commonwealths". His opinions represent hope, possibility and optimism. This initial description then can be juxtaposed to the end of the novel, after hearing Marlow tale, when he says, the Thames "seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness".
It can be seen as evidenced above that the narrator undergoes a significant growth, from one extreme polarization to another, however throughout the text there are various small changes that can be inferred which lead to the eventual change (seen at the end of the novel) of the frame narrator. As expressed by Hena...