Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, was born in December 1857. In 1874, he went to Marseille, France, to work on a merchant ship. This marked the beginning of Conrad’s passion for navigation. Later, he lived at sea for 20 years, collecting rich traveling experiences. A disastrous voyage to the Congo left a deep impression on Conrad and formed the background of his novel Heart of Darkness.
This adventure story is mainly about Captain Marlow’s experiences on a boat docked in the Congo River. Marlow’s story revolves around a well-known white colonist named Kurtz. Kurtz begins as an idealist, determined to bring the progress of civilization into Africa, but his character soon changes.
Though the tale told is about Kurtz, the main narrator is Captain Marlow, making this a framed narrative – a book with a story embedded within a story. Marlow, in the beginning, is an impartial and righteous person. However, even a just person cannot always resist the temptations of the world. Africa, during this time period, was a pristine and mysterious land, where people could do whatever they wanted without restraint.
Marlow recounts how he once almost went astray due to greed, but he controlled himself and overcame temptation. Kurtz, on the other hand, is the incarnation of insensibility and greediness. When he first arrives in the primitive land, he is afraid of the indigenous people and brings fancy things to the Africans. He soon becomes a god to the locals and is able to get what he wants easily. Like a tyrant, he uses force to get expensive pieces of ivory. Facing unlimited temptation, Kurtz turns from a civilized man into an insensible and ruthless one.
The most interesting aspect of the plot is the contradictions within it. Although Kurtz knows that he is on the road to degradation, he keeps acting the same way. By the end of the story, Kurtz hates himself, although he doesn’t deny enjoying his power. This contradiction demonstrates the mystery of human nature. Apart from Kurtz’s suffering, Marlow suffers as well. The book claims that Marlow loves truth and finds lying repulsive. Yet, in the last part of the book, he lies to Kurtz’s fiancée in order to pacify her. He strays from his strong beliefs and suffers guilt afterwards. The quote, “it seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head,” is the best depiction of Marlow’s inner world.
The book’s title is intriguing. After reading it, I began to understand its true meaning. Darkness refers both the uncultivated, mysterious land of Africa and to the characters’ distorted hearts as they wrestle with temptation. Ultimately, this book makes readers explore and question basic human nature. I recommend this powerful and
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.