Heart of Darkness is a novel written by Joseph Conrad. The setting of the book is in Belgian Congo, which was the most infamous European colony in Africa. This is a story about the protagonist Marlow’s journey to self-discovery, and his experiences in Congo. Conrad’s story explores the colonialism period in Africa to demonstrate Marlow’s struggles. Along the way, he faces insanity, death, his fear of failure, and cultural contamination as he makes his way to the inner station. Conrad through the protagonist and antagonist life explores European imperialism and its effects to Africans.
Marlow is the protagonist in the Heart of Darkness. He is depicted as independent-minded, idealistic, and skeptical about the people around him. Marlow is the narrative teller in the Heart of Darkness who uses his skills to be able to draw the audience to his tale. Marlow tells of his experience and the European prejudices he encountered around the world and this had has made skeptical about imperialism. For example he says “A nigger was being beaten near by. They said he had caused the fire in some way; be that as it may, he was screeching most horribly” (Conrad). Marlow has been defeated by the world, and this makes him weary, cynical, and skeptical about everything. Marlow tells the story of Kurtz, and is portrayed by the author as a frequent story teller because he narrates in the majority of the book.
Marlow had a negative view on colonialism and imperialism. This attitude was shaped through his experiences during his journey to Congo, and how he witnessed many Africans suffer in the hands of the colonialists. In addition, after finding Kurtz and understanding him, he fully understood the effects of colonialism to a man’s soul. Kurtz was a very changed man who had been influenced by colonialism. Kurtz had been influenced by the idea of imperialism which changed his id; he was insane and understood nothing.
Marlow’s Journey to Congo makes him more enlightened to the violence of imperialism on Africans. When he arrives, he says, "acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly” and affirms that this devil is as “insidious as he could be too I was only to find out several months later and a thousand miles farther " (Conrad). Marlaw was referring to imperialism as a devil, and this foreshadows his main view on the issue of imperialism. According to Marlow, imperialism was a pretending devil that pretended to have a good agenda on the African people, yet to him, imperialism was full of violence, and Europeans were using it in order to gain more power and wealth from the Africans. While on his journey, he could see African workers dying of hunger and this left him wondering, why are they treated that was yet they are not criminals? They are just innocent human beings. The issue of imperialism was to teach the natives to work hard in order to benefit from their hard work but no, they were killing themselves working very hard to benefit the colonialists who never even cared if they die of hunger while working. The colonizers had given the natives a false idea which was killing them slowly as they benefit from their hard work and so for Marlow, imperialism was not helping Africans at all. Marlow’s pure vision of imperialism was washed away by what he saw the colonialist do to Africans in the name of imperialism.
Kurtz is the object of Marlow’s quest. He is the chief of the Inner station, and his story is narrated by Marlow. Conrad depicts Kurtz as a fine painter and a gifted musician who leads his people with a powerful influence (Conrad). Kurtz never obeyed his superiors’ authority. Therefore, Marlow was sent to Congo to search for him and retrieve him from the evil influences in the Congo. Marlow came to understand, and learn about the real Kurtz and even identified with him. Kurtz id had changed completely.
When Marlow met Kurtz, deep down him, he had already identified the similarities they shared and he became dangerously fond of Kurtz. Both Marlow and Kurtz were imperialists who both helped the natives against mistreatment from their employees. Marlow saw the difference between the idea and practice of imperialism clearly when he met Kurtz. The practice of imperialism imposed on Africans was damaging and had effects on the people. Kurtz ideas of imperialism had been altered and he was destroyed because he was now insane; his superego had vanished and now he was influenced by the id. Marlow saw a different Kurtz from the one he had heard off, totally destroyed by Europeans who had made him a committed member of imperialism. Kurtz was altered by the practice of imperialism by Europeans which was misleading. Kurtz was a man who held on the moral compass with the hopes of helping Africans improve their lives but when Marlow met him, he was totally a different man who no longer holds to his moral values, and had no compassion for the Africans like before; he was an insane man. Kurtz had become a product of the imperialism idea unknowingly, and it was leading him to his grave.
In the Heart of Darkness, Conrad is able to use the two main characters, Marlow and Kurtz to explore the issues surrounding imperialism, and how the Europeans complicated the idea to Africans for their own gain. Along the way, Marlow gets a negative attitude towards imperialism, and nothing could change it especially after meeting Kurtz who has been changed by the imperialism idea. Marlow encounters torture scenes, and cruelty against Africans who are being forced by the imperialism idea to work hard, and they die while striving to be civilized as they have been lied to by the colonialists. Conrad’s book is a book that shows the hypocritical operations of imperialism, violence, and open racism.
When Marlow arrived in Congo, his id changes and becomes unbalanced. He felt isolated from the world, and the changing of his id puts his psyche to test. He says, “travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the worldyou lost your way on that river as you would in a deserttill you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once-somewhere-far away-in another existence perhaps” (Conrad). His id was changing because he had to adapt to the new physical conditions, and even culture. He met Kurtz who represented the power of the id; he has succumbed to the primal id, and was okay with it. Mr. Kurtz was removed from the society and was living a different life that made him look insane. Kurtz was controlled by the mental id, and he dies muttering “The horror! The horror!” (Conrad). Marlow’s id was affected by the insanity and death of Kurtz. In Congo, a man had to survive and his id was the only thing that was responsible for his survival. Marlow’s mental change is seen where he tells Kurtz “I will throttle you for good” (Conrad). Any man traveling to the Congo became lonely in the jungle, and this affected his id thus causing madness. For Marlow, he was able to control his id unlike Kurtz who let it overcome him. For Marlow, he is faced with a choice to either live like Kurtz, and die like him by letting his id control him or choose to balance his two competing mental states and use the superego.
The theme of madness reoccurs throughout the story and it is depicted by the two main characters. For Marlow he knew Europeans represented civilization, law, sanity and all elements of the superego but he came to find out that they brought the id to Africa which represents insanity, chaos, and anarchy (McLynn 97). Kurtz was being ruled by the id, and this led to his death. After being exposed to the id in Africa, Marlow began suffering from the traces of insanity that were in Kurtz character.
Joseph Conrad in his book Heart of Darkness is able to reveal the experience of being inside and outside through the character Marlow. The two were influenced by the id and their superego taken away. The Heart of Darkness is a story that explores how colonialist made Africans suffer, and changed their thinking. Instead of bringing them civilization and sanity, they introduced imperialism which had dire consequences of the lives of Africans.
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Moore, Gene M. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness: A Casebook. Oxford: Oxford University
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McLynn, Frank. Hearts of Darkness: The European Exploration of Africa. New York: Carol &
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