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Conrad\'s novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period
of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow,
and his struggle. Marlow\'s catharsis in the novel, as he goes to the
Congo, rests on how he visualizes the effects of imperialism. This
paper will analyze Marlow\'s "change," as caused by his exposure to the
imperialistic nature of the historical period in which he lived.
Marlow is asked by "the company", the organization for whom he
works, to travel to the Congo river and report back to them about Mr.
Kurtz, a top notch officer of theirs. When he sets sail, he doesn\'t
know what to expect. When his journey is completed, this little "trip"
will have changed Marlow forever!
Heart of Darkness is a story of one man\'s journey through the
African Congo and the "enlightenment" of his soul. It begins with
Charlie Marlow, along with a few of his comrades, cruising aboard the
Nellie, a traditional sailboat. On the boat, Marlow begins to tell of
his experiences in the Congo. Conrad uses Marlow to reveal all the
personal thoughts and emotions that he wants to portray while Marlow
goes on this "voyage of a lifetime".
Marlow begins his voyage as an ordinary English sailor who is
traveling to the African Congo on a "business trip". He is an
Englishmen through and through. He\'s never been exposed to any
alternative form of culture, similar to the one he will encounter in
Africa, and he has no idea about the drastically different culture
that exists out there.
Throughout the book, Conrad, via Marlow\'s observations, reveals to
the reader the naive mentality shared by every European. Marlow as
well, shares this naiveté in the beginning of his voyage. However,
after his first few moments in the Congo, he realizes the ignorance he
and all his comrades possess. We first recognize the general naiveté
of the Europeans when Marlow\'s aunt is seeing him for the last time
before he embarks on his journey. Marlow\'s aunt is under the
assumption that the voyage is a mission to "wean those ignorant
millions from their horrid ways"(18-19). In reality, however, the
Europeans are there in the name of imperialism and their sole
objective is to earn a substantial profit by collecting all the ivory
Another manifestation of the Europeans obliviousness towards
reality is seen when Marlow is recounting his adventure aboard the
Nellie. He addresses his comrades who are on board saying:
"When you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents
of the surface, the reality--the reality I tell you---fades.
The inner truth is hidden luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the
same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching over me at my
monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows performing on your
respective tight ropes for---what is it? half a crown a
What Marlow is saying is that while he is in the Congo, although
he has to concentrate on the petty little everyday things, such
as overseeing the repair of his boat, he is still aware of what is
going on around him and of the horrible reality in which he is in
the midst of. On the other hand, his friends on the boat simply don\'t
know of these realities. It is their ignorance, as well as their
innocence which provokes them to say "Try to be civil, Marlow"(57).
Not only are they oblivious to the reality which Marlow is exposed to,
but their naiveté is so great, they can\'t even comprehend a place
where this \'so called\' reality would even be a bad dream! Hence, their
response is clearly rebuking the words of a "savage" for having said
something so ridiculous and "uncivilized".
Quite surprisingly, this mentality does not pertain exclusively to
the Englishmen in Europe. At one point during Marlow\'s voyage down the
Congo, his boat hits an enormous patch of fog. At that very instant, a"very loud cry" is let out(66). After Marlow looks around and makes
sure everything is all right, he observes the contrasts of the whites
and the blacks expressions.
It was very curious to see the contrast of expression of the white
men and of the black fellows of our crew, who were as much strangers
to this part of the river as we, though their homes were only eight
hundred miles away. The whites, of course greatly discomposed, had
besides a curious look of being painfully shocked by such an
outrageous row. The others had an alert, naturally interested
expression; but their faces were essentially quiet. . . (67).
Once again, we see the simple-mindedness of the Europeans, even if
they were exposed to
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Fiction, Literature, Congo Free State, Heart of Darkness, Human trophy collecting, Novellas, Charles Marlow, Kurtz, Joseph Conrad, Marlow, Ice
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