The Accidental Hero: An In Depth Analysis In Marlow’s Role In Heart Of Darkness

1763 words - 7 pages

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow can be seen as the hero of the story despite his alternating morals and the fact that Marlow ultimately does nothing to improve the situation in Africa. Throughout the whole narrative Marlow finds himself thrust into many shocking situations yet chooses the path of an observant bystander, giving his own opinion at the time, but no lasting action or motivation is conceived. On top of this fact Marlow’s morals are anything but set in stone; they waver innumerable times over the course of the plot. Yet Marlow is more often than not seen as the prominent hero of the plot. How is this possible? This is because readers aren’t looking for perfection in a character, but depth, and Marlow achieves this level of depth through his epiphanies and the changes that take place in his perception of the world. These revelations in turn challenge the reader to reevaluate themselves.
Marlow’s attitude towards colonization is made very clear in the first pages of the book. He is very critical about the whole process and is very cold towards affair. Marlow states: “It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only.” (Conrad 70). Marlow’s gains this perspective on colonization throughout his journey, thus already foreshadowing change within Marlow’s character.
Marlow embarks on a journey to be the captain of a small steamboat to navigate the Congo river for a trading company. On his way to his station he catches a glimpse of the natives, apparently ‘criminals’, for the first time. Marlow expresses that “these men could by no stretch of imagination be called criminals” (81). Marlow reasons that these people could not be judged by a judicial system that was brought to them by a completely distinct background. The natives would have been entirely unaware of the laws because they were exposed to them, thus to judge them according to the judiciary of Europe were absurd in Marlow’s opinion. “They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea” (81). To the modern reader Marlow touches upon the upbringing of civil rights and equality and shows a moral approach to understanding these people. Thus, he seems to possess characteristics required in a hero - fundamentally and morally outstanding. Yet throughout the book Marlow wavers from this sympathetic reflection. Despite this epiphany Marlow soon allows questionable thoughts to cross his mind very soon afterwards. Marlow recalls, "He [Marlow's companion] was very anxious for me to kill somebody [a native], but there wasn't the shadow of a carrier near. I remembered the old...

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