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

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Heart of Darkness

Marlow and Kurtz, Europe, and Africa
In The Heart of Darkness Marlow tells the story of his journey to Africa down the Congo River. As he relates his story to his fellow shipmates, the reader is presented with his many ideas on the characters, ideas, and settings. Marlow really works to establish a relationship between Kurtz, Europe, and Africa.
In the tale, Kurtz is the embodiment of European ideals. When describing Kurtz and how his mother is half-English and his father was half-French, he says, “All of Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz…” He is well-educated and can write with “unbounded power of eloquence.” The brick-maker says, “He is a prodigy. He is an emissary of pity, and science, and devil knows what else.” Marlow says that Kurtz is a member of the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs, and he says that this is the reason that Kurtz writes his convincing pamphlet. He is a model of progress, being successful both with the natives and with collecting ivory. As Marlow comes closer to him, however, he learns the dark truth about Kurtz and his “progress.”
Marlow collectively portrays Europe in the tale. He often portrays it negatively, such as in the beginning when he says of the west, only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches became more somber every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.” In the beginning, he also compares Europe to Africa. He says that Europe was once like Africa until the Romans were “man enough to face the darkness.” He also adds that the people of the company, however, were not colonists but conquerors urged on by what he calls “the squeeze.” He says of them, “they grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. Another way Marlow describes Europe is as a white sepulcher, like Jesus said of the Pharisees, outwardly beautiful, but inwardly full of dead men’s bones. After his journey up the Congo, he returns to the white sepulcher, and does not feel that he fits in with the rest of society any longer.
The third thing that Marlow works to establish in the tale is the African setting. He says that as a child he wished to go to the unnamed places on the map. One of those was Africa, and he says of it now, “It had become a place of darkness.” He says that it is the Congo River, winding its way into Africa like a snake that draws him. He says, “The snake charmed me.” This story is comparative to that of Adam and Eve, when Eve was tempted by the serpent. As Marlow travels, he realizes how much darkness there is in the jungle and in the hearts of men. He discovers Kurtz and the dark truth when he reaches the Inner Station.
As Marlow continues on his journey, he learns a great deal not only about Africa but also about the human condition. He understands that though Kurtz has went too far, he is in many ways like or “kin to” Kurtz. He realizes how dark men’s hearts can be, and the problems with what was called the progress of the day. Through all of this, Marlow finally comes to understand why Kurtz’s last words were, “the horror, the horror!”
~Deniese Willard


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