Review of ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Heart of Darkness is a novel written by Joseph Conrad and first published as a book in 1092. The story is biased by Conrad’s own experiences as captain of a Belgian steamboat, it takes place in Africa, specifically in the Congo. The novel fall in the category of Modernism in Literature due to its components and characters. As the story progress the two principal characters of the novel seems to be different but as the time passes the reader can tell that they are more alike than anybody can imagine.

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It is more than a story about a trip down the river. It is a search for the differences between good and evil, black and white, sanity and madness.

Joseph Conrad was brought into the world on December 3, 1857 in Berdichev, Ukraine and deceased in August 3,1924 due to a heart attack. He came from an aristocrat family, and, as his father, he loves literature as well. Since he was very young, he started reading English novels usually translated to Polish and French. (Famous Authors 2019) Conrad is one of the greatest important English-speaking authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is well known for being considered a noticeable Modernist. Maybe the most curious thing about his works is that English was not his mother tongue. Conrad was Polish, and he did not learn to speak English until he was in his twenties, after studying French. Conrad was a man of trips and adventures, this made him able to include and get inspired by some exotic scenarios on his literary works.

Heart of Darkness narrates the disturbing journey of an English ivory dealer named Marlow, who, under the orders of a Belgian company, enters into the jungle of Africa in search of a mysterious man named Kurtz, who, in turn, seems to have become a kind of god, and apparently lost his mind. Along the way Marlow witnessed the brutality and hatred between the colonizers and the African aborigines. Since the story is situated in time frame of English Imperialism and Colonization, it portrays situations of mistreatment towards the African aborigines. After “rescuing” Kurtz (because in some parts of the novel Kurtz seemed comfortable and even praised by the aborigines) Marlow looks horrified as Kurtz succumbs to madness, illness and, finally, death. The story ends with the visit of Marlow feeling guilty, to Kurtz’s fiancée apartment, and returning her Kurtz’s personal letters.

When Joseph Conrad gave his work the name of “Heart of Darkness” maybe he was referring to something deeper than just the geographic location of the story. His experience in the bowels of Africa, in the heart of the black continent had marked him in a profound way, so it is not surprise that the tittle of the novel made some reference to this specific topic. However, if we take a closer look to the story “heart of darkness” can have another meaning as well. It could aso embodies the main characters inner journey. In this case, the wild forces of nature-in their most primal and brutal condition, which could be represented by Kurtz, due to his primitive impulses and how he just let those instincts take control. And, the counterpart in the equally savage forces that act within men, that could be represent by Marlow, because even when he knows that he poses owns those dark instincts too, he does not let them to take control completely. Likewise, could be understood that at the end of the novel, we discovered that the ultimate source of “darkness” was none other than evil hidden in the deep darkness of the human heart. The true heart of darkness will be, then, as we already suspected, the dark, unfathomable and primal heart of men.

The relationship between Marlow and Kurtz, could be portrayed as: they have so many differences but similarities as well. Marlow’s feelings towards Mr. Kurtz go through different phases. At first instance. Marlow was absolutely fascinated by the jungle and its people. But at the same time, he lets himself be drowned by this primitive savagery in which he is surrounded by, a savagery for which he has a terrible fear. It’s exciting, he says, but also scary. In some way, Kurtz has done everything that Marlow has always fantasized with, like rejecting the return to the luxuries and comfort of England and pursuing fortune and glory, condemning danger. Marlow’s feelings for Kurtz eventually turn into a bitter resentment, since he is disturbed by the cult and adoration of the African natives, towards Kurtz. Somehow Marlow feels that he civilized side, makes him superior than Kurt, specially when he discovered the actions that Kurt committed in the jungle as impaled heads. The relationship between these two men is that one is the mirror of the other, a reflection and projection, adding or removing specific characteristics of each other. Both have disturbingly similar reactions in their incursions into the interior of Africa, Marlow and Kurtz, despite their desire to conquer the wild, become victims of the wild.

In the last part of the novel, Marlow visits Kurtz fiancée apartment and lies about Kurtz’s last words. “The last words he pronounced was- your name.” (Conrad 958) to what she responded, “I knew it- I was sure!” (Conrad 958) But in the beginning Marlow stated that he hates lies, and everything about them. He tries to justify his lie by saying that “it would have been too dark” if he told her the true. This would be Marlow trying to defend the woman of a world of depressing reality. Or maybe, he supposed that acting as if Kurtz’s words of darkness and disgust never existed or never came out of his mouth, somehow, those words will disappear. Marlow seems to have an inner and even moral conflict on stay with the true or do not provoke more pain to Kurtz’s fiancée, a conflict that more than one person could have at any moment of life, be fake or hurt someone with the true.

To conclude, the work could be considered is an ambiguous social critique of colonialism’s performance after the partition of Africa, as well as the ongoing struggle of man to defeat nature. It reflects the internal exploration of the human being in an interesting and obscure way.

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Review of 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad. (2021, Jul 05). Retrieved from