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 “Heart of Darkness”, Marlow’s journey into the heart of Africa becomes a journey into the human spirit. “Heart of Darkness” projects the image of Africa as ‘the other world’, the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization. Marlow, the protagonist of “Heart of Darkness”, is generally skeptical of those around him. Although Marlow shares many of his fellow Europeans’ prejudices, he has seen enough of the world and has encountered enough degraded white men to make him skeptical of imperialism. Mr. Kurtz, chief of the inner station, is in charge of the most productive ivory station in the Congo. Hailed universally for his genius and eloquence, Kurtz becomes the focus of Marlow’s journey into Africa. Kurtz is a man of many talents, the chief of which are his charisma and his ability to lead men. Kurtz is also a man who understands the power of words, and his writings are marked by an eloquence that obscures their horrifying message. Kurtz was once what Marlow is, however, he became increasingly corrupt as he was isolated from the civilization of Europe. He truly symbolizes Europe in that “his mother was half-English, his father was half-French.” “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz…” He is also a “renaissance man” and very talented. He stands by his virtues and also symbolizes the good intentions of Europeans. Under the influence of the manager, though, his sinister and harmful side is exposed. In Africa, repressed urges arose which he could not control. Lost in the darkness of his own being, he defines this new found reality as “the horror”. Despite his descent into evil, Marlow respects Kurtz in comparison to the much more “hollow men” whom he refers to as “pilgrims”.

Throughout life, one must constantly fight against the forces of darkness. Kurtz fights a battle against the so called “darkness”. This darkness surrounds Africa and the African peoples. The greatest darkness, however, exists within Kurtz himself. The first type of darkness that Kurtz must conquer is one of ignorance that surrounds the Europeans in regards to the African natives. Prior to Kurtz’s voyage, he is part of a society where traditional law prevails. When he penetrates deep down the Congo River, he enters an area where it appears law is all but absent. He observes people living under an entirely different code of ethics than the one he is accustomed. The Europeans that surround Kurtz treat the natives very poorly. They instituted the many programs such as slavery that exploit the natives and their land, using an excuse that they are just inferior. Kurtz spends a great deal of time with the natives, and he learns that they are not inferior as the Europeans believe, but instead they are just not technologically advanced and have a different moral system. The second type of darkness that Kurtz must fight is the darkness inside himself: The forces of selfishness and greed that are compelling to him to take advantage of the African peoples. This darkness is apparent when the time comes for Kurtz to leave the jungle and just as he is about to do so, he turns back. Instead of taking what he learned about the natives to heart, he takes advantage of the fact that in the jungle, he will be treated as a god, and will be able to do all he wants forever. It is this lapse in judgment that causes Kurtz to say at the end of the book, “The horror! The horror!.” When he says this, he is expressing the disappointment in himself that instead of doing the correct thing and returning to Europe to enlighten the people, an action that would have made a real difference in the lives of the Africans, he took advantage of his perceived superiority and allowed himself to be idolized.

Overall Kurtz symbolizes Europe towards the end of Imperialism when they began to recognize and realize their actions as harmful and evil. Although he remains a mystery even to Marlow, Kurtz clearly exerts a powerful influence on the people in his life. His downfall seems to be a result of his willingness to ignore the hypocritical rules that govern European colonial conduct: Kurtz has “kicked himself loose of the earth” by fraternizing excessively with the natives and not keeping up appearances; in doing so, he has become wildly successful but has also incurred the wrath of his fellow white men.


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