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

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Heart of Darkness

The method Conrad uses to deploy his elegant narrative is essential to understand the relationship between Kurtz, Europe, and Africa. In order to grasp Marlow's character and opinions, it is important to understand one important factor about Marlow himself. Marlow is a man who is accepted in an ambiguous haze; his ability to fit into more than one level of society is necessary to relate the story and make the reader better understand the true meaning of “Heart of Darkness”.

Throughout Heart of Darkness, the functionality of “things” being in their place is very important. The constraints placed on class mobility throughout the story make it vital for Marlow to be socially transparent. His ability to float between classes is his most powerful narrative tool. This quality is also essential for Marlow to relate Kurtz with both Africa and Europe. Instead of telling the story from one perspective, Marlow's story embodies the perspective of all the different characters (However, Marlow seems to be searching for the reason behind many of these characters motivations for being in Africa, and he seems to fall short of completely pinpointing underlying motives). Through the description of these characters we can begin to see the haunting relationship they all possess. The accountant, General manager, Brick-maker, and the managers uncle all possess the bureaucratic persona that relate directly to the Belgian company. Kurtz on the other hand is Europe's finest. Skilled in many different forms of intellectual abilities, he is a man who is sure to rise up the ranks of the bureaucratic ladder. Unlike the other bureaucrats, Kurtz has a mission and a clear path to fame and glory back in Europe. This quality alone sets him above the lesser men who hold imperialism as a helpful and noble cause. It is worth noting the way Marlow describes several of the less important characters. When Marlow encounters the brick maker, he makes the observation that very few bricks seem to be being made. Marlow then cites the brick makers lack of progress for want of materials. This example found in a minor character describes the presence of many of the more ambitious characters such as the pilgrims. Very few men who flocked to the heart of Africa know little more about their motives than Marlow himself. One could also argue that Marlow is uncertain of his own motivations for venturing to Africa. The depiction of the “colonialist” is full of veiled morals and uncertain ideals. They know little about themselves and seem to be wading chest deep in a dark haze that is sure to send them back broken men (if at all!). The “hollow” men are simply an extension of the imperialist hand that extends from above. In Conrad's Congo there are malignant reactions for apparent benign causes. It is also filled with tedious task who's sole purpose is to keep the horrors hidden beneath a facade of humanitarian ideals. The separation of ideals and motives are more important in regards to the comparison between the general manager and Kurtz. While Kurtz is a man who possesses a refined and graceful intellect, the General Manager possesses little quality besides the ability to make his listener feel uneasy. Combined with his ability to evade disease, the general manager is the perfect parasite to feed on the horrors of imperialism. The “darkness” unknowingly spread to Africa within the hearts of the Europeans.


The idea of restrain is a redundant theme that is vital to the success of Marlow's journey and return (the mere fact he returned merits success). It is due to the other characters lack of restraint that alludes to their destruction. The helmsman, pilgrims, the managers uncle, and Kurtz himself all exercise a devout lack of restraint throughout the journey. It is in the face of adversity and terror that restraint lends its greatest fortitude and can be the balance that one needs in order to keep is head in times of madness. Sadly, this was not a trait that the talented Kurtz possessed. He was the ruin of an age, the beacon that was covered up by a dark haze never to be seen again, only his memory will remain and it will remain not as a success but as a warning for overreaching individuals.


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