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Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

“Heart of Darkness,” initially published in 1899, was one of the earliest unmistakably modernist pieces of fiction in English. It was written by Joseph Conrad, who was born in Poland and did not speak English as a first or second language. Since the invention of cinema in the nineteenth century, all films include a “modernist” aspect. Modernism, as a trend, mainly rejects realism, sentimentalism, and certain other late-nineteenth-century modes of expression in favor of a greater focus on subjectivity. In modern films, illusions are also utilized to produce images that may not always represent a realistic experience. Heart of Darkness analyzes European colonialism’s crimes, depicting it as a phenomenon that sullies not only the locations and peoples it exploits, but also those in the West who defend it. Although the story never gained traction when it was first published, it has become a classing in modern literature.

The story is mostly told by Charlie Marlow, a remarkably intelligent and chatty sailor recounting his exploits as a steamship captain on an excursion into the Congo River basin. He is one of a set of passengers on a boat cruising down the River Thames. The narrative begins on the deck of a boat named the Nellie, and as we meet the passengers, we learn that the light is steadily departing and that darkness will soon envelop the region. Conrad’s first use of light and darkness is in this imagery, which foretells the eventual gloom Marlow would experience. Marlow’s journey began at a place he describes to as the “sepulchral city,” which is in Europe. He gets chose as captain of a river ship by “the Company,” an unnamed institution that supervised a business entity in Congo. Once he had his mission, he left for Africa, all the while anticipating what he would discover. However, his expectations are short-lived. He is confronted with the horror of imperialism from the time he enters Africa, observing the brutality it imposes on the African people it was exploiting.

As he travels, he learns about Kurtz, a colonial official. He was said to be unrivaled in his abilities to obtain ivory from Africa’s interior. He made the decision to go meet him. Marlow’s boat arrived at Kurtz’ after facing multiple challenges along the route. Kurtz by then had seized authority of a native tribe, which he used to perform attacks on the neighboring areas (Conrad, 1996, p.27). Even though Kurtz was adamant at first, Marlow persuaded him to return with him. As the boat left the native land, Marlow’s crew shoot at the group of African natives who had previously been under Kurtz’s control. Kurtz did not survive the journey and dies on the way. Despite his survival, Marlow was henceforth scornful of the trivial afflictions of Western culture that appeared to obsess all those around him.

In the novel “Heart of Darkness” the metaphorical meanings of light and darkness play a crucial part. Conrad employs the use of light imagery to represent civilization, while dark imagery suggests the uncivilized. Marlow, who believes he has acquired the light, sends his representative candidate Kurtz to bring light to the dark continent of Africa through numerous strategies. According to Marlow and Kurtz, Africans are in the dark because they are uncivilized. However, at the end of the ovel, the white man is the one actually filled with the darkness. Kurtz and Marlow’s inhumanity, deception, and selfishness are the principal sources of darkness in the African country. They disrupted the locals’ solitude, tainted their culture, and the intervention of Europeans tainted their lifestyle’s authenticity. According to Conrad, the presence of darkness is crucial to the existence of civilization.

Within the novel, one of the metaphors representing darkness is the African jungle. The woods represent primitiveness and barbarism to white Europeans. The Jungle, according to white people at the time, represented man’s savagery and complete isolation. As Marlow journeys farther into the African wilderness, he understands that barbarism is a primordial kind of civilization. Marlow knows what evil lurks at the center of human nature as a result of his encounter with Kurtz. When Marlow first hears of Kurtz’s actions in the woods, he blames Kurtz’s moral turpitude or insanity to his lack of contact with civilization. Marlow blames Kurtz’s behavior on the dark, enigmatic energy of the jungle.

As recounted in the novel, fog is another imagery of darkness. It implies both ambiguity and distortion. It provides just about enough for one to make a judgment but no method to assess the veracity of that information, which is frequently incorrect. The fog obscures Marlow’s eyesight, leaving him unsure of where he is headed or whether open sea awaits him ahead. He can only make a decision based on voices and sounds that are also ambiguous (Conrad, 1996, p.15). He believes the natives will not assault his cruise since their laments have sounded more mournful than violent. All of his conclusions turn out to be incorrect. Marlow confronts not just the wickedness and ruthlessness of imperialism, but also faces the ugly side of his humanity.

The Europeans traveled to Africa with the intention of civilizing the savages there. However, once they were free of the restraints of civilization, they succumbed to the evil aspects of humanity. Kurtz’s dark cruelty is seen in the light. What is more horrifying, is the underlying evil that exists among cultured people. This suggests that the heart of darkness exists in every human being. People are willing to be civil and humane when they are tied down by societal expectations and regulations. However, when human beings are allowed to exercise their power over others, then the darkness reveals itself. Marlow witnessed this change in Kurtz and realized that the jungle was not the cause of the darkness, it was the saturation of power. Additionally, most of the stories recounted by the characters take place mostly at night, which gives the story a foreboding feeling of something dark about to happen.

Although “Heart of Darkness” typically focuses on Imperialism’s corruption and effects of colonialism, Conrad also regularly expresses realities about the quest for personal prosperity. He explains how this need frequently arises from the ideals of someone else who similarly wishes to gain. Correspondingly, T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” emphasizes the spiritual and emotional void that followed World War II. People were afraid of having gained nothing at the time. Because of their similarities, this literature both represent a universal notion. They contend that many individuals lack the ability to think for themselves, resulting in a conflict between their wants and the ideas implanted by others. As a result, they are devoid of thinking and feeling.

As “Heart of Darkness” comes to an end, the narrator, Marlow, characterizes Kurtz as being hollow to the core. He was implying that Kurtz lacked moral integrity and had been led into a semblance of reverence by Africa’s darkness. This emotion is similarly articulated in “Hollow Men,” when Eliot mentions a straw-filled headpiece. It’s reasonable to think of the poem as a sort of sequel to the novel. As Marlow’s narrative on the boat draws to a close, he recalls the reasons why Kurtz went to Africa in the first place. During his encounters with Kurtz’s partner, he finds that her exquisite and trusting face, along with her eagerness for Kurtz to establish a reputation for himself, compelled him to travel to Africa in search of wealth. According to Marlow, Kurtz had no desire to travel to Africa in quest of a career in the ivory trade. However, because the family had disapproved of his betrothal to the partner, he felt compelled to overcompensate. This indicates that he had no sense of direction. Kurtz merely went where adventure took him. This indicates that he had no sense of direction. Kurtz believed what the everyone else told him to believe. In this instance, society accentuated his fragility through manipulation, which is a recurring topic in “The Hollow Men.”

Marlow finally realizes the genuine emptiness and hollowness within himself as a result of all he observes on his journey. The African forests play the same roles as the deserts in “The Hollow Men.” The deserts of hollow men are desolate and deserted, mirroring Marlow’s thoughts. His mentality resembles a figure who appears to be “stuffed,” much like the folks in Eliot’s poem. When Kurtz eventually appears in Heart of Darkness, he is constantly referred to as a “genius,” and his brilliance based on his own inner thoughts. However, his genius was finally recognized for what it was. That’s when he realized he’d been living an empty existence.

Though he may be emotionless and vile, Kurtz is arguably not a hollow man. Instead, he is one of the lost individuals who Eliot does not wish to be like. Kurtz is the embodiment of all that is wrong in the novel, and he dies with his trademark philosophic phrases. Instead of passing peacefully, Kurtz dies without knowing that his ideals about life would be spread across the world. Kurtz, dies with a bang rather than a whimper. Eliot, on the other hand, implies that the world of hollow men ends with a whimper. The first stanza in the poem is not intended to be an illustration of a hollow man; rather, it is intended to provide a juxtaposition of the lost man.

Work Cited

Conrad, J. (1996). Heart of darkness. In Heart of darkness (pp. 17-95). Palgrave Macmillan, New York.


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