Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness


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Gabi's Review

Part of the contract for a modern reader engaging with a classic, is the potential for chasms in cultural perspectives.

Eurocentric and imperialist perspectives abound in Heart Of Darkness, particularly the stereotyped depiction of African people as symbols of the savagery to which white people might descend if removed from the constraints of ‘civilisation.’

Charles Marlow, the story’s narrator, is a sailor captivated by the allure of exploration, who finds himself aboard a steamer on the Congo as part of the lucrative imperial ivory trade. On his literal and metaphoric journey, he becomes increasingly unsettled, as does the reader, as the darker outcomes of the trade reveal themselves. The enslavement of black Africans. Headhunting. The plundering of ivory on the hypocritical pretext that Europeans are civilising the heathen natives.

One of the most haunting aspects of the book is the enigmatic Colonel Kurtz, the object of Marlow’s mission. The charismatic figure has legendary success in the trade, but is rumoured to have gone mad in his desire for power and adulation. His frequent representation in the novella as a dangerously persuasive voice has led critics to see him as a forerunner of the demagogues Hitler and Mussolini.

Through Marlow's eyes, Conrad confronts us with the realities of nineteenth-century imperialism. Heart of Darkness inverts conventional notions of civilisation and barbarism, asking profound questions about the nature of morality, power, and the capacity for evil within us all. The novel is a beautifully crafted and stages it’s revelations with exquisite dramatic timing. Its conclusion, however, reveals the limitations of nineteenth-century ideas about women. Marlow returns to ‘civilisation to tell Kurtz’s fiancée a lie – that Kurz was a noble and idealistic man – on the grounds that women are too weak to deal with the darkness of history. That European ‘civilisation’ would crumble unless men protected women from the brutal realties of the imperial project.

Publishers Review

On a boat in the Thames estuary, Marlow tells his travelling companions of his reconnaissance expedition for a Belgian trading company to its most remote outpost in central Africa, which brought him on the trail of the elusive Kurtz, a brilliant idealist gone rogue. His account relates not only the perils he encounters on his quest, but also the deterioration of his state of mind as he is confronted with a world that is hostile and alien to him.

Renowned for its stylistic boldness and dramatic descriptions, Heart of Darkness is a stark yet subtle examination of the powers of the subconscious and the workings of western imperialism.