Heart of Darkness

I begin the New Year with exams (It’s horrible I know!) I can’t start any new books yet so I thought I’d review one of the novels from my course! I know it sounds boring but Heart of Darkness took me by surprise; its tackling of issues prevalent in Europe during the 19th and 20th century is superb. The massive continent of Africa is divided into various colonies rules by different European countries. Marlow, an English seaman, takes a long desired voyage to the heart of darkness – Africa. What he finds there leaves him a changed man.

Joseph Conrad is said to have been ahead of his time. He viewed his age as the next generation was to view it: with a critical eye for its faults. He saw imperialism for what it was and Heart of Darkness abounds in his use of symbols to portray it. The novel is semi-autobiographical; Conrad believed that literature should be realistic; it should include one’s own experiences.

Marlow, the protagonist, tells his story to a few of his sailor friends who then narrate it to us.  He pulls off the mask of virtue from imperialism and shows it for what it really was: greed. Money is the primary concern of everyone, and here money takes the form of ivory. In one of the most expressive dialogues Marlow describes the lust for ivory that had ensnared them all,

“They word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse. By  Jove! I’ve never seen anything so unreal in my life.”

The natives are maltreated to the point of death and starvation. Everywhere Marlow looks he finds misery. But the ‘pilgrims’ stand firm in their belief that they have come to Africa to ‘civilize’ the brutes. They are here to bring a change. Marlow travels to the interior to find the one man he has heard so much about. A man, who had ideals, and now possesses strength and power over the natives. He is said to bring in more ivory than all the rest put together. Marlow’s interest in him increases as his journey progresses and when the final meeting takes place, the mask is off and all the ugliness of the situation in Africa is shown at its height. Marlow returns, having fulfilled his wish at a cost. He knows now what other men don’t. How is he to carry this burden?


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