Relationship of Marlow to the Joseph Conrad

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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Joseph Conrad’s book, Heart of Darkness, has constantly brought up the question ,is Conrad the main character or not? Due to Conrad’s past career as a Sailor who travelled to Africa it is more understandable why experts might believe the theory of Conrad being Marlow in his book. The other question comes as, if Conrad is Marlow in Heart of Darkness why did he make a fictional character in his place. There are several theories with substantial evidence but there maybe a theory not researched in depth that would explain the usage of fictional character.

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Conrad mirrors his voyage in Africa in Marlow while changing several real life situation to hide the true story. Conrad does this to protect himself from moral criticism and hiding what he really think of the imperial expansion of England.

Marlow is faced with situations where his action will determine what he really feels about what is happening in Africa. Some of those situations would put him on one side or the other of the political spectrum which Conrad doesn’t want to be pinpointed. The point of my observations should be quite clear by now, namely that Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist. That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked (Achebe 176).Conrad as an author was a highly respected man and had to protect himself from possible criticism. As Marlow journeys through the African Congo he meets things that were very possible during the time of Conrad’s travels. The amount of detail and accuracy to the true situation of Africa in that time only proves point of his possible shelling of the Marlow character. Conrad has faced criticism of his earlier books at an author’s perspective and cannot appreciate such criticism and to avoid even worse criticism which could possibly target his moral which is a dangerous topic to tackle especially in his time as an author which could damage his career and income.
Certain damaging debates have occurred on the moral compass of Marlow as he goes through situations that keep questioning it. Expert have asked questions like, is Marlow racist? Does Marlow support Imperialism? Is Marlow attached to the native Africans he finds? And other questions that if they were directly facing a real standing person or in this case an author would bring substantial worse criticism. Conrad has gone through situations that taught him to protect his emotions. He has discovered the power of shutterted emotions and the possible outcomes and by this he feels less guilty of what Moral or Immoral actions that Marlow takes during his journey to the congo.

The possible negative effects of putting his own name in the book would be tremendous. Many questions would be raised concerning Conrad’s personal or political agenda, Questions would be raised about the work ethics of ‘The Company” , questions would be raised about the true story of Kurtz and This would possibly divide the public opinion on African Exploration which would be dangerous given that Public opinion drives heavily government or private opinions. All these would be strong substantial reasons to hide the truth from the eyes of the public while telling them half of the truth and entertaining them. Other effects of telling the truth would be protection of his reputation in a time where it is highly valued and protecting his money stream, books.

The other question was , if he didn’t want to tell the truth why even write the book? First, What Conrad saw in Africa was things he had never seen before and they were worth a story. It is also believed Conrad was not a big Imperialism fan and this was an anonymous wake up call for the public and Conrad believes that this would change what the colonialists are doing in Africa at the time and consider not only the picture but also the small one till the last individual or in this case the last native African. But also although Conrad shows disgust for the actions of Kurtz he also reminds his readers about his view for Africans which is also not that good.

Does Marlow approve or disapprove what the company is doing in Africa? Marlow approves the mission of the company but does not approve the way it is carried out. Marlow comes from a country that idolises imperialism and explorers are considered heros of the country, Colonialists. By this when he gets to work for the company, he is greatly honored.
He understands the the use of imperialism and his blind loyalty is about to show him the truth of the matter. Marlow is basing his adventure on the truth when he realises that he just knew the ice top of a very large ugly iceberg. The mistreatment, killing and poaching is all going wild and Marlow finds himself contradicting his own beliefs.

Marlow starts off as an adventurous boy but as he sees the ugly terrors of what is happening in Africa he begins to have a change of heart. He finds himself witnessing acts of iniquity that were being done on Africans, Forthwith he starts questioning the means that were being used by the company. As a leader, Marlow most certainly approved of the mission of the company but as far as his eyes had showed him, the company’s means were unjust. A good example is of when he had just arrived on a site of railway road and to his astonishment, African workers were terribly ill and were lying there waiting for their deaths. This scene put Marlow in a rather devastating state because he had other pictures painted in his mind. On another perspective, coming from a very educative and bold background, He believes that the company has indeed chose to base in Africa in order to escalate the wellbeing of the continent. Following a series of unfortunate scenes, Marlow makes new discoveries on a fellow European to which he could almost relate to,Kurtz. He is known to be a man of high intelligence, curious and fascinated by the idea of traveling to Africa but later on came to realize that Kurtz had embarked in a journey to exterminate the natives. In relation to Kurtz, Marlow seems to be a man of high capacity of judgement and had solace for Africans. Marlow’s discoveries did not stop, his latest discovery even shocking than the previous one. A typical case is of when he witnessed a row of posts covered with the sliced heads of the natives. Throughout his journey, Marlow’s ideology is puzzled and put to a test. His beliefs are even more questioned as he continues his tales with Kurtz, embarking in other mysteries on the operation of the company.

Forthwith, Marlow’s experience is intriguing and horrifying at the same time. After spending time on the sites where the atrocities he had witnessed took place, His vision on how the mission that was to be put in place by the company started to change as now he was persuaded to think his fellow Europeans were going astray from the mission. Puzzled in his mind, even more so, Marlow continues to strike a step forward. In the journey, He is divided in two individuals. In order to have a broad look on what was happening in Marlow’s mind, one would say he was compelled to abide by his country’s immense worship of imperialism and other forms of colonialism, another abides by his strict morals and social restraints, which indicates a large contradiction in his mind. It would be wise to say that Marlow was gaining experience from the situation. On a deeper insight, the emotional and mental adaptation that he inherits from the truth he witnessed draws him close to an open view on the atrocities, dishonesties and distrust of the company’s operations. Surely, one would say in the beginning Marlow was excited when he was offered a job to work for the company in Africa because as a child he had always wanted to explore the blank spaces on the map, now a reflection on that he is immensely disillusioned.

In his fight to nurture his curiosity he later on becomes skeptical which is understandable in the circumstances he was living. This new feeling to Marlow also disrupts his accord to the mission of the company and most especially the way it was being carried out. It becomes even more difficult for him to continue his adventure when he finds himself in company with greedy people who engage in nothing more than filling their pockets with wealth. He also finds himself sympathizing with the natives who had been victims of extreme colonialism. Marlow’s idea for civilization is also questioned because now at the place where Europeans had said to upbring civilization upon Africans is where people were being tortured and brutally killed. This made it difficult for Marlow to sensitize with the European society upon going back because of what he had seen. On the other hand, even after what Marlow goes through during his time in Congo, It does not change his personality but only changes his idea on how the company he’s working for operations. He stays rational and pessimistic which proves to be a great hand later on. Marlow now sees the company’s image as hypocrisy, as to them they had to be spotless to the rest of the world and this displeases him. To his dislike, the racism that was upon the natives even more. At one point, he struggles to keep being himself or let himself turn a prey of the darkness in Africa.

At the heart of his journey, a series of events make Marlow believe that Europeans were blinded by what they were told and did not have a clue on the actual things that were taking place for example Marlow himself, as a child he was eager to find the dark places on the map even though as he grew up he got a clearer vision on what the dark places looked like but he was disillusioned when he was given the opportunity to travel to Africa and see the truth for himself.

Marlow’s perspective of the mission changes negatively because of the barbaric treatment of the Europeans to the Africans. Most people would discuss the position of Marlow and we cannot deny the source of the story in this book as his journey to the Congo but this book can be used to say that the Heart of Darkness is not much about Africa but is a metaphor for a psychological discovery in the heart of human nature and the animal being hidden under our civilized polishes. The true darkness is that of the beast at regular intervals and the ease with which we can withdraw when external constraints are removed. This shows how conrad numbs us in his great obscure mediation to the rhythm of his prose the feeling of moving forward and backward. the modern reader will probably say that even if it is not a unique fact in africa the scenario is not a coincidence: conrad deliberately chooses a region and a cultural context that resonate like a wild and uncivilized public we do not claim that kurtz would have experienced the same descent into madness if he was in his familiar environment with the local Englishmen.

In the book, Marlow keeps thinking about his inner urge to join the dancing, and so called wild natives. He expresses how civilisation has suppressed all the true nature of human beings. “analysis of the deterioration of the white man’s morale, when he is let loose from European restraint, and to make trade profits out of the subject races” (Murfin 99).The probable purpose of Conrad writing this book would be to remind people of their true nature as animals and that they are only surpassing it with civilization and it would not take as much to bring it out aas to suppress it for years. “Conrad also wants to give the reader a sense of disorientation. What appears secure might not be secure at all “(Said 29).This gives a high probability that Conrad felt this wilderness in him when he was in his travels especially with the debate of whether Marlow is Conrad or not. Conrad believes that the founding pillars of our existence are based on our animal instincts and the native Africans have embarrassed it while europeans are just covering it up with Civilisation and the reason why the europeans are so worried about civilising Africans is the fear of the reverse in their evolution and control over material resources.”

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Relationship of Marlow to the Joseph Conrad. (2021, Apr 27). Retrieved from