Heart Of Darkness Essay, Research Paper
Every man or woman has buried within themselves a dark side, savage side. When a man is taken out of society and left to create his own norms, he rediscovers those instincts, which have laid dormant since the beginning of existence. Survival of the fittest, physically and intellectually, is the foundation of these instincts. Persons who dominate one or many through mental or physical powers develop a sense of superiority. This feeling, if fostered by the environment, and intensified to an extreme, produces a sense of having God-like powers. A man believing himself to be a or the God is seen as a wicked person or a monster. Since monsters can not be allowed to roam the civilized world, someone must be sent to destroy it. To find the monster, the person selected must take the same path as the monster. This path is a journey into one’s own mind, soul, or true self. The person on this path will never see evil so clear and defined as in his/her own reflection. In taking this path, the person runs the risk of becoming the very thing he is trying to destroy.
In Joseph Conrad’s story “Heart of Darkness”, the protagonist represents the person selected to seek out and destroy the monster. Conrad uses many techniques to bring the reader into the darkness: archetype, symbolism, and foreshadowing. The theme of this classic tale is made through the words of the western philosopher Nietzsche; “when fighting monsters the person fighting should be careful not to become one, and when looking into a void the person must be aware that the void also looks into him”.
The readers are first introduced to the protagonist, Marlow, as he is being commissioned –by the “Company”– to hunt down the monster, Kurtz, Marlow, a boat captain, almost nomadic in his need to travel, is also a man of simple morals, simple to the point of religion, the most prevalent commandment seen in his character is “thou shall not lie.” Marlow, after spending a little time in London, embarks on his journey. The purpose of this journey is to find Kurtz, a man who is also employed by the “Company” –which is in the ivory business, and has its “greedy hand spread over Africa like a malignant tumor” (Gatten). Having lost control of Kurtz, the “Company” choose to relieve him of his post and had, before Marlow, already employed another man –who eventually joined Kurtz– to retrieve him. With hopes of a successful recovery, of both the monster and the ivory which he guards, Marlow makes the journey down the Congo, which is never named as such, into the heart of Africa –the heart of darkness. Darkness, meaning literally, a country where the inhabitants are themselves dark. Darkness, meaning symbolically, the savage part of a man’s soul.
The readers, reaching the midpoint of the story, find Marlow encountering one delay after another. Months of delays force him to observe his environment and the mentality of the people who surround him, both foreign and domestic. Marlow realizes that Kurtz is entrenched within a society which has few rules. Of these few rules, which direct the savage African society surrounding him, Kurtz is the creator and enforcer of the majority. Unrestricted by society, human nature is left to itself in its purest form. Were the natural human instincts are left to grow and thrive on the minds of any one in the presence of the darkness. Kurtz, a far superior being mentally than the savages who surround him, suffers from a god-complex. With this mental disorder in full effect, he is left unopposed to claim his position as a god. On his journey to find Kurtz, Marlow realizes the same principles that Kurtz had realized on his. Human nature is inherently both good and evil, light and dark the, yin and yang. It is the society’s perception of good and evil which lead to its definitions. Evil is universally accepted as being tempting; shown by the adage; “Be a slave in heaven, or a ruler in hell.” This temptation is most prevalent in environments lacking rules, environments like that in which Kurtz was ensconced, or the same environment that we all encounter every day. This struggle inevitably creates unrest within the soul of the those involved.
Finally reaching Kurtz’s station, after the delays and dealings with the savages and others also employed by the “Company,” Marlow finds his prey ,the monster, Kurtz, closely following the stereotypes of what a monster is expected to do. Kurtz was found to be participating in monstrous acts such as: having heads of rebels impaled upon sticks, as an admonition to others of his power. Without the constraints of society, Kurtz is able to seek out and fulfill his inner desires and go beyond any restraints that he may have had before. In Kurtz, Marlow sees, “the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself” (113). T. S. Eliot said, “we are continually reminded of the power and terror of Nature, and the isolation and feebleness of Man”. Marlow also believes that the very wilderness speaks to Kurtz, telling him secrets; “whispered to him things about himself which he did not know, things of which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude –and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating” (98). A man’s growth is through his experiences, and both Marlow and Kurtz grow, through their respective journeys, at a meteoric rate.
Kurtz, dying, struggles against the evil consuming his soul, “. . .both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysteries it had penetrated fought for the possession of
that soul satiated with primitive emotions. . .” (116). The war between good and evil
within his soul is immense, as he struggles between what he once was, and the evil that he now is being consumed by. Kurtz, a genius at whatever he attempted, was hired by the “Company” to collect and deliver –out of Africa– any and all ivory found. Kurtz is also an extremist, and with these extremes he has been in many environments from which he learned and applied to the world in which he now dies in; In doing his job to the extreme, Kurtz eventually was earned a title of god by the aborigines, and the title of monster by the society in which he once lived. As they trek through the wilderness to leave the station Marlow comments, “A voice! a voice! It rang deep to the very last. It survived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of his heart. Oh he struggled! he struggled!” (115).
Kurtz’s greatness is as prevalent as ever as he fights the darkness consuming his soul. Marlow, watching his captured prey move closer to death, sees its face and expressions; “. . .on that ivory face the expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror –of an intense and hopeless despair” (118). All of these horrid expressions came from his understanding human nature; “. . .the appalling face of a glimpsed truth. . .” (119). Marlow watches as Kurtz is dying, knowing that he can do nothing to save him, “His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you would peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines” (117). At some point in his self-discovery, or observing Kurtz’s, Marlow finds that he is very similar to him (eternally connecting the two) from which loyalty is born. His loyalty to Kurtz is so profound that it takes precedence over his own morals, Even after he discovers Kurtz’s violent acts, Marlow is still drawn to him, as if he were a god,, lies for him, and even risks his life. Having none of the barriers created by society, Marlow finds that in the wilderness (in the darkness) Kurtz was not only able to see, in a deadly moment, the truth of human nature, but also demonstrate his epiphany with a single phrase: “The horror! The horror!” (118). In this climactic scene Kurtz passes his secret –the antagonist– onto Marlow.
The most incredible part of his death was that, “. . .his stare, could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness” (119). From their initial meeting Marlow refers to Kurtz’s soul as being either consumed by evil, fighting off the evil, or no longer existent; “It echoed loudly within him
because he was hollow at the core. . .” (98). After his death, Marlow ponders the monster’s last words, whispered on a breath, knowing the truth of the words; “. . .it was a victory” (120). Even after death, his loyalty to Kurtz was unyielding; “I did not betray Mr. Kurtz –it was ordered that I should never betray him –it was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice” (109).
Of the many techniques used in this novella, archetype, symbolism, and foreshadowing are the most predominant. The first technique, archetype, being the age old battle between good and evil, is see from beginning to end –on every page. The second and third techniques, symbolism and foreshadowing use similar descriptions of myriad objects and ideas: the river –the serpent– with its colors and actions; ” a mighty big river. . .resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land” (11). The women in black, both symbolizing and foreshadowing death; ” She seemed uncanny and fateful. . .knitter of black wool” (16). The blankness of the destination on the map, symbolizing and foreshadowing discovery; “. . .blank spaces on the earth. . .” (11). The
darkness, symbolizing the savage part of man, and foreshadowing death; “. . .into the depths of darkness. . .” (29).
“Droll thing life is –that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself –that comes too late –a crop of inextinguishable regrets,” (119) laments Marlow –after the death of Kurtz. Albert J. Guerard’s thesis is that the journey was of a self-discovery into the savage part of man, the evil part inherent in all men. Destined to encounter one another, Marlow had a connection with Kurtz from the moment the name was given to him, as if he recognized a long lost family member. Marlow is tormented by both Kurtz and his abhorrent secret. He, also being a great man, keeps the torment to himself. Having fought the monster, and defied the temptation to become one, Marlow looked into the void, was the darkness, and survived.