Heart of Darkness

One of the prominent themes in Heart of Darkness is the ongoing battle between the invading Europeans and the native people and their land. Based off Marlowe’s descriptions, it seems that the land itself is the thing he fears most throughout the story. He describes it constantly as a though it has a life of its own, referring to the river as a snake (the original evil creature) and at one point describes the riverbank as a defense mechanism, as if “nature herself had tried to ward off intruders” (Conrad 81).

This concept was interesting to me because it seems, even from the title of the book, that the struggle for ivory is a futile effort from the start. They are venturing into the “Heart of Darkness,” where basically everyone goes insane, because  “the sun [is] too much for [them], the country perhaps” (Cornad 82). The land is directly fighting their presence, in a way, with disease, unbearable weather, and impenetrable forests.

I am particularly a fan of this type of buildup, because we already know that Marlowe survives the story, so it is one of those situations where all we want to know is why he didn’t go insane, how he found Kurtz, and other little details that are foreshadowed in the first chapter and a half. The thing that stands out, however, is that we know from the beginning that nothing good can really happen, because futility is seen in every little corner of the story. An example is the ship firing blindly into the countryside because there “might be an enemy, maybe, or something is over there,” which is an image that portrays almost the entire book, in the sense that the European “agents” are searching blindly for ivory in a land that hates them, hoping that there “might be something out there” for them to get their hands on.

Another example is when the shed lights on fire, and Marlowe sees a man with a hole in his bucket trying to bring water to put the fire out. As Marlowe mentions, at this point the shed has already burst fully into flames and is beyond saving, yet the many continues to attempt to put it out even though his pale can’t even carry the water to it. This made me think of the station as a whole, because it is a situation where everyone is moving backwards and yet making it seem as though they are doing something. Marlowe mentions that it seems as though no one actually does work, as though they are simply waiting for things to happen, and all the while people are getting sick and dying left and right. The overall attitude of the Europeans seems to be that they feel as though they are doing productive work, even though it is clear that nothing but misery exists in this place. The underlying theme of futility is an important part of the story itself, and contributes to the overall idea that the search for ivory did nothing but damage to the people and the land itself.

i hope you guys were at least slightly interested in my post, because i found this to be one of the more interesting motifs in the story. how did you interpret the references to the darkness of the land…is Marlowe saying that everything was doomed from the start? or is there something you think i missed? hook me up with some discussionnnnn.

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One thought on “Heart of Darkness

  1. I think your comments that we know Marlow survives and isn’t driven ‘mad’ by nature is an interesting one. Is it true? Is he ‘sane’? Or, more importantly, is he treated as sane by the people he interacts with? Maybe this is another reason for the 2-teir narration of the story. We see Marlow interacting with others AFTER his voyage.

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