This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Heart of Darkness

In the Heart of Darkness, Marlow tells the story of his trip along the Congo River to rescue a man named Mr. Kurtz. Mr. Kurtz was a very important character in the story. Through the reader’s understanding of him, he/she is able to gain an understanding of the views of Europe toward Africa during the early twentieth century. The reader is also able to understand an opposing view through the changes in Kurtz and his own views of the treatment of the Africans.
Kurtz is first associated with England through Marlow’s explanation of his heritage. Marlow explained that Kurtz’s “mother was half-English and his father was half-French. All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.” This statement by Marlow was very important in explaining the relation between Kurtz and Europe. This is Joseph Conrad’s way of expressing the thought that Mr. Kurtz is a representative of the ideas of Europe toward Africa. This idea is further expressed through the explanation that Mr. Kurtz wrote a report for “future guidance” of groups attempting to improve other societies, in particular, the African societies. Marlow noted that this report was later summed up by Mr. Kurtz himself with a note scribbled at the end of the report stating “Exterminate the brutes.”
The relation between Mr. Kurtz and Africa is somewhat harder to grasp. It first appears that Mr. Kurtz does feel toward Africa just as Europe. After all, he wrote the report expressing the ideas of how to handle them. It seems that during his life before Africa, while he was still of sound mind, he believed they were “brutes” and needed to be “exterminated”. He stole ivory from them in order to send it back to Europe, he killed some of them and displayed their heads on stakes. It seemed he felt no remorse for his actions toward the Africans, just as Europe had shown no remorse. Through the solitude he experienced in the inner station, he eventually lost his sanity. Kurtz had taken the beliefs of Europe to the extreme. These extremes were later seen by him as horrible acts. His statements at the time of his death show this change of attitude. Mr. Kurtz’s last words were “The Horror, The Horror”. This statement, along with his other actions, support the idea that he no longer felt the actions of Europe, and therefore, of himself, were appropriate. Marlow knew that Kurtz’s loyalty to the company was not what it once had been. Kurtz had wanted his papers to be protected from the manager and other members of the company and therefore, gave the papers to Marlow.
Marlow, it seems, has the idea that Kurtz is somehow different from the others in the company. Perhaps that Kurtz is the one that could have changed how Europeans have handled Africans in the past because he had once not only been associated with their ideas, but had actually been a spokesperson for those ideas. Kurtz was one of few men during that time who had seen, and perhaps even felt, the horrors of the attitude toward the African people. Marlow felt that Kurtz could have been a strong influence in changing that treatment. Through Marlow’s telling of this story to his fellow sailors, he is expressing his thoughts of the horrible treatment of the Africans. The name Heart of Darkness expresses the idea that such treatment must come from a very dark place within all people.

Jill Vinson


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