Hasson takes your scan before I begin telling my story. The key is that your brain waves are doing something very different from the waves of the others who are also waiting. No two brains in the room are in sync. I begin talking, and as my story unfolds, Hasson sees movement in the scans—your brain waves and the waves of the others are going up and down in the brain region that processes sound, the auditory cortex. Suddenly, something amazing begins to happen. In other words, your brain waves begin to move up and down together and blood flows to the same regions of your brain and the brains of the other participants.
You are in sync with the other listeners and you are all in sync with me, the person telling the story. He sees movement in the auditory cortex because the brains of the listeners are processing sounds, but the scans do not show alignment. Only a story, a comprehensible narrative, can trigger alignment among all the listeners. Recently, biomedical engineers at Drexel University used a more advanced tool called fNIRS functional near- infrared spectroscopy to study the brains of two people having natural conversations with one another in less formal settings than a lab.
The technique uses light to measure neural activity and to give researchers a view of blood flow to different parts of the brain. The human brain is wired for story. Anthropologists believe that when our ancestors gained control of fire, it was a major milestone in human development. Fire cooked food, which gave us protein to build larger brains. Campfires also extended the day.
Stories informed others in the camp of potential threats, taught new ways of building tools, and sparked imagination. Now we know that Pathos—emotional appeal—is an essential component of persuasion. Marlow blows the steam whistle and disperses the crowd. On the return trip to the Central Station Kurtz's health worsens. He half coherently reflects on his "soul's adventure," as Marlow describes it, and his famous final words are: "The horror!
The horror! Rather than explain the truth of Kurtz's life in Africa, Marlow decides not to disillusion her. He returns some of Kurtz's things to her—some letters and a pamphlet he had written—and tells her that Kurtz's last word was her name. Marlow's story ends and the scene returns to the anchored Nellie where the unnamed narrator and the other sailors are sitting silently as the tide is turning.
The Aunt uses her influence to help Charlie Marlow secure an appointment as skipper of the steamboat that will take him up the Congo River. Echoing the prevailing sentiments of the Victorian day, the Aunt speaks of missions to Africa as "weaning the ignorant millions from their horrid ways. The Chief Accountant, sometimes referred to as the Clerk, is a white man who has been in the Congo for three years. He appears in such an unexpectedly elegant outfit when Marlow first encounters him that Marlow thinks he is a vision.
Both the Chief Accountant's clothes and his books are in excellent order. He keeps up appearances, despite the sight of people dying all around him and the great demoralization of the land. For this, he earns Marlow's respect. The Doctor measures Marlow's head before he sets out on his journey. He say he does that for everyone who goes "out there," meaning Africa, but that he never sees them when they return. The Doctor asks Marlow if there's any madness in his family and warns him above all else to keep calm and avoid irritation in the tropics.
The Fireman is an African referred to as "an improved specimen. He is very good at firing the boiler, for he believes evil spirits reside within and it is his job to keep the boiler from getting thirsty. The Foreman is a boilermaker by trade and a good worker. He is a bony, yellow-faced, bald widower. His passion is pigeon flying. By performiing a jig and getting Marlow to dance it with him, he shows that the lonely, brutalizing life of the interior of Africa can make people behave in bizarre ways. Fresleven, a Danish captain, was Marlow's predecessor.
He had been killed in Africa when he got into a quarrel over some black hens with a village chief. He battered the chief over the head with a stick and was in turn killed by the chief's son. Fresleven had always been considered a very quiet and gentle man. His final actions show how drastically a two-year stay in Africa can alter a European's personality. A native, the Helmsman is responsible for steering Marlow's boat. Marlow has little respect for the man, whom he calls "the most unstable kind of fool," because he swaggers in front of others but becomes passive when left alone.
He becomes frightened when the natives shoot arrows at the boat and drops his pole to pick up a rifle and fire back. The Helmsman is hit in the side by a spear. His blood fills Marlow's shoes. His eyes gleam brightly as he stares intently at Marlow and then dies without speaking. The Intended is the woman to whom Kurtz is engaged and whom he had left behind in Belgium.
One year after his death, she is still dressed in mourning. She is depicted as naive, romantic, and, in the opinion of Victorian men of the day, in need of protection. She says she knew Kurtz better than anyone in the world and that she had his full confidence.
This is an obviously ironic statement, as Marlow's account of Kurtz makes clear. Her chief wish is to go on believing that Kurtz died with her name on his lips, and in this, Marlow obliges her. The Journalist comes to visit Marlow after Marlow has returned from Africa. He says Kurtz was a politician and an extremist. He says Kurtz could have led a party, any party. Marlow agrees and gives the journalist a portion of Kurtz's papers to publish. Kurtz, born of a mother who was half-English and a father who was half-French, was educated in England.
He is an ivory trader who has been alone in the jungles of Africa for a long time. No one has heard from him in nine months. The Company Manager says Kurtz is the best ivory trader he has ever had, although he suspects him of hoarding vast amounts of ivory. Marlow is sent to rescue him, although he has not asked for help. The word "kurtz" means "short" in German, but when Marlow first sees the man, seated on a stretcher with his arms extended toward the natives and his mouth opened wide as if to swallow everything before him, he appears to be about seven feet tall.
Though gravely ill, Kurtz has an amazingly loud and strong voice. He commands attention. Kurtz, previously known to Marlow by reputation and through his writings on "civilizing" the African continent, is revealed upon acquaintance to be a dying, deranged, and power-mad subjugator of the African natives. Human sacrifices have been made to him.
Rows of impaled human heads line the path to the door of his cabin. Kurtz is both childish and fiendish. He talks to the very end. His brain is haunted by shadowy images. Love and hate fight for possession of his soul. He speaks of the necessity of protecting his "intended" and says she is "out of it," a sentiment Marlow will later echo. Kurtz's final words, uttered as he lies in the dark waiting for death, are: "The horror! The hoffor! That realization is transferred to Marlow, who feels bound to Kurtz both through the common heritage of their European background and the infinite corruptibility of their natures as men.
Kurtz's Cousin is an organist. He tells Marlow Kurtz was a great musician. Marlow doesn't really believe him but can't say exactly what Kurtz's profession was. Marlow and the Cousin agree Kurtz was a "universal genius. The Manager, a man of average size and build with cold blue eyes, inspires uneasiness in Marlow, but not outright mistrust. He is an enigma. He is smart, but cannot keep order. His men obey him but do not love or respect him. The Manager has been in the heart of Africa for nine years, yet is never ill. Marlow considers the Manager's greatness to lie in that he never gives away the secret of what controls him.
Marlow speculates that perhaps there is nothing inside him, and maybe that is why he is never ill. The Manager says Kurtz is the best agent he ever had; yet he also says Kurtz's method is unsound and that he has done more harm than good to the Company. When Marlow discovers his ship is in need of repair, the Manager tells him the repairs will take three months to complete. Marlow considers the man "a chattering idiot," but his three-month estimate turns out to be exactly right. The Manager's "boy," an African servant, delivers the book's famous line, "Mistah Kurtz—he dead.
The Manager's Uncle, a short, paunchy man whose eyes have a look of "sleepy cunning," is the leader of the group of white men who arrive at the Central Station wearing new clothes and tan shoes. The group calls itself the "Eldorado Exploring Expedition," and uses the station as a base from which to travel into the jungle and plunder from its inhabitants.
Marlow observes that they steal from the land "with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe. Marlow, a seaman and a wanderer who follows the sea, relates the tale that makes up the bulk of the book.
He is an Englishman who speaks passable French. He sits in the pose of a preaching Buddha as he tells a group of men aboard the Nellie , a cruising yawl in the River Thames, the story of his journey into the interior of the Congo. Marlow had previously returned from sailing voyages in Asia and after six years in England decided to look for another post. He speaks of his boyhood passion for maps and of his long fascination with Africa, that "place of darkness. Marlow says he is acquainted with Kurtz through his writing and admires him.
His trip upriver is beset with difficulties. Marlow encounters several acts of madness, including a French man-of-war relentlessly shelling the bush while there appears to be not a single human being or even a shed to fire upon. Later, he comes upon a group of Africans who are blasting away at the land, presumably in order to build a railway, but Marlow sees no reason for it, there being nothing in the way to blast.
Everywhere about him, he sees naked black men dying of disease and starvation. Revulsion grows within him over the white man's dehumanizing colonization of the Congo. It reaches a peak when Marlow finally meets Kurtz and sees the depths of degradation to which the man has sunk. Nevertheless, Marlow feels an affinity toward Kurtz.
He sees in him both a reflection of his own corruptible European soul and a premonition of his destiny. Although Kurtz is already dying when Marlow meets him, Marlow experiences him as a powerful force. When Kurtz says, "I had immense plans," Marlow believes the man's mind is still clear but that his soul is mad. Marlow takes the dying Kurtz aboard his steamer for the return trip down river. He feels a bond has been established between himself and Kurtz and that Kurtz has become his "choice of nightmares.
Seeing a kind of victory in that final summing up, Marlow remains loyal to Kurtz. He finds her trusting and capable of immense faith. Marlow believes he must protect her from all the horrors he witnessed in Africa in order to save her soul. When the girl asks to hear Kurtz's final words, Marlow lies and says he died with her name on his lips.
Marlow then ceases his tale and sits silently aboard ship in his meditative pose. The Narrator remains unidentified throughout the book. He tells the reader the story Charlie Marlow told to him and three other men the captain or Director of the Companies, the accountant, and the lawyer as they sat aboard the becalmed Nellie on London's River Thames, waiting for the tide to turn. The Narrator is an attentive listener who does not comment on or try to interpret the tale. He is, instead, a vessel through which Marlow's story is transmitted, much as Conrad is a vessel through whom the entire book is transmitted.
When Marlow finishes speaking, the Narrator looks out at the tranquil river and reflects that it "seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness. The Official demands that Marlow turn over Kurtz's papers to him, saying the Company has the right to all information about its territories. Marlow gives him the report on "Suppression of Savage Customs," minus Kurtz's final comment recommending extermination, and says the rest is private.
The Official looks at the document and says it's not what they "had a right to expect. The Pilgrim is a fat white man with sandy hair and red whiskers. He wears his pink pajamas tucked into his socks. He cannot steer the boat. He assumes Kurtz is dead and hopes many Africans, whom he and all the other white people refer to as "savages," have been killed to avenge Kurtz's death. Marlow tells the Pilgrim he must learn to fire a rifle from the shoulder.
The pilgrims fire from the hip with their eyes closed. The Pilgrims are the European traders who accompany Marlow into the jungle. They fire their rifles from the hip into the air and indiscriminately into the bush. They eventually come to look with disfavor upon Marlow, who does not share their opinions or interests. When they bury Kurtz, Marlow believes the Pilgrims would like to bury him as well. The Russian is a twenty-five-year-old fair-skinned, beardless man with a boyish face and tiny blue eyes. He wears brown clothes with bright blue, red, and yellow patches covering them.
He looks like a harlequin—a clown in patched clothes—to Marlow. As he boards Marlow's boat, he assures everyone that the "savages" are "simple people" who "meant no harm" before he corrects himself: "Not exactly. He has been alone on the river for two years, heading for the interior, and chatters constantly to make up for the silence he has endured. The Towson's Book on seamanship, which Marlow had discovered previously, belongs to the Russian.
Marlow finds the Russian an insoluble problem. He admires and envies him. The Russian is surrounded by the "glamour" of youth and appears unscathed to Marlow. He wants nothing from the wilderness but to continue to exist.
The characters in the thirteen stories that comprise The Dark and Other Love .. It wasn't always about the love that two people show openly to other people, but. To ask other readers questions about Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories, "The Other Eurydice" and "Becalmed in the Antilles" are two standouts in this.
The Russian describes Kurtz as a great orator. He says one doesn't talk with him, one listens to him. He says Kurtz once talked to him all night about everything, including love. The Russian presents Marlow with a great deal of information about Kurtz, chiefly that Kurtz is adored by the African tribe that follows him, that he once nearly killed the Russian for his small supply of ivory, and that it was Kurtz who ordered the attack on the steamer to scare them away. The savages range from the workers dying of starvation and disease at the Outer Station to the cannibals who man Marlow's boat to the tribe who worships Kurtz.
For the most part Marlow comes to consider all the natives savages, although he expresses some admiration for the cannibals, who must be very hungry but have refrained from attacking the few white men on the boat because of "a piece of paper written over in accordance with some farcical law or other. He also seems to be shocked by the addendum to Kurtz's report that says, "Exterminate all the brutes!
He compares watching the boat's fireman work to "seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hindlegs," and shocks the pilgrims when he dumps the body of the helmsman overboard instead of saving it for burial. For Marlow, the native "savages" serve only as another illustration of the mystery Africa holds for Europeans, and it is because of this dehumanization that several critics consider Heart of Darkness a racist work. The Swedish Captain is the captain of the ship that takes Marlow toward the mouth of the Congo. He tells Marlow that another Swede has just hanged himself by the side of the road.
When Marlow asks why, the Swedish Captain replies, "Who knows? The sun too much for him, or the country perhaps. The Woman is the proud, "wild-eyed and magnificent" African woman with whom Kurtz has been living while in the interior. She is the queen of a native tribe. When she sees Marlow's steamer about to pull away and realizes she will never see Kurtz again, she stands by the river's edge with her hands raised high to the sky. She alone among the natives does not flinch at the sound of the ship's whistle. Marlow considers her a tragic figure.
The Young Agent has been stationed at the Central Station for one year. He affects an aristocratic manner and is considered the Manager's spy by the other agents at the station. His job is to make bricks, but Marlow sees no bricks anywhere about the station. The Young Agent presses Marlow for information about Europe, then believes his answers are lies and grows bored. He refers to Kurtz as "a prodigy … an emissary of pity and of science and progress.
Throughout Heart of Darkness , which tells of a journey into the heart of the Belgian Congo and out again, the themes of alienation, loneliness, silence and solitude predominate. The book begins and ends in silence, with men first waiting for a tale to begin and then left to their own thoughts after it has concluded. The question of what the alienation and loneliness of extended periods of time in a remote and hostile environment can do to men's minds is a central theme of the book.
The doctor who measures Marlow's head prior to his departure for Africa warns him of changes to his personality that may be produced by a long stay in country. Prolonged silence and solitude are seen to have damaging effects on many characters in the book. Among these are the late Captain Fresleven, Marlow's predecessor, who was transformed from a gentle soul into a man of violence, and the Russian, who has been alone on the River for two years and dresses bizarrely and chatters constantly.
But loneliness and alienation have taken their greatest toll on Kurtz, who, cut off from all humanizing influence, has forfeited the restraints of reason and conscience and given free rein to his most base and brutal instincts.
Deception, or hypocrisy, is a central theme of the novel and is explored on many levels. In the disguise of a "noble cause," the Belgians have exploited the Congo. Actions taken in the name of philanthropy are merely covers for greed.
Claiming to educate the natives, to bring them religion and a better way of life, European colonizers remained to starve, mutilate, and murder the indigenous population for profit. Marlow has even obtained his captaincy through deception, for his aunt misrepresented him as "an exceptional and gifted creature. Conrad sounds the themes of order and disorder in showing, primarily through the example of the Company's chief clerk, how people can carry on with the most mundane details of their lives while all around them chaos reigns.
In the larger context, the Company attends to the details of sending agents into the interior to trade with the natives and collect ivory while remaining oblivious to the devastation such acts have caused. Yet on a closer look, the Company's Manager has no talent for order or organization.
His station is in a deplorable state and Marlow can see no reason for the Manager to have his position other than the fact that he is never ill. On the other hand, the chief clerk is so impeccably dressed that when Marlow first meets him he thinks he is a vision. This man, who has been in-country three years and witnessed all its attendant horrors, manages to keep his clothes and books in excellent order.
He even speaks with confidence of a Council of Europe which intended Kurtz to go far in "the administration," as if there is some overall rational principle guiding their lives. Closely linked to the themes of order and disorder are those of sanity and insanity.
Madness, given prolonged exposure to the isolation of the wilderness, seems an inevitable extension of chaos. The atmospheric influences at the heart of the African continent—the stifling heat, the incessant drums, the whispering bush, the mysterious light—play havoc with the unadapted European mind and reduce it either to the insanity of thinking anything is allowable in such an atmosphere or, as in Kurtz's case, to literal madness.
Kurtz, after many years in the jungle, is presented as a man who has gone mad with power and greed. No restraints were placed on him—either from above, from a rule of law, or from within, from his own conscience. In the wilderness, he came to believe he was free to do whatever he liked, and the freedom drove him mad. Small acts of madness line Marlow's path to Kurtz: the Man-of-War that fires into the bush for no apparent reason, the urgently needed rivets that never arrive, the bricks that will never be built, the jig that is suddenly danced, the immense hole dug for no discernible purpose.
All these events ultimately lead to a row of impaled severed human heads and Kurtz, a man who, in his insanity, has conferred a godlike status on himself and has ritual human sacrifices performed for him. The previously mentioned themes of solitude and silence have here achieved their most powerful effect: they have driven Kurtz mad. He is presented as a voice, a disembodied head, a mouth that opens as if to devour everything before him. Kurtz speaks of "my ivory … my intended … my river … my station," as if everything in the Congo belonged to him. This is the final arrogant insanity of the white man who comes supposedly to improve a land, but stays to exploit, ravage, and destroy it.
As is true of all other themes in the book, those of duty and responsibility are glimpsed on many levels. On a national level, we are told of the British devotion to duty and efficiency which led to systematic colonization of large parts of the globe and has its counterpart in Belgian colonization of the Congo, the book's focus. On an individual level, Conrad weaves the themes of duty and responsibility through Marlow's job as captain, a position which make him responsible for his crew and bound to his duties as the boat's commander. There are also the jobs of those with whom Marlow comes into contact on his journey.
In Heart of Darkness , duty and responsibility revolve most often about how one does one's work. A job well done is respected; simply doing the work one is responsible for is an honorable act. Yet Conrad does not believe in romanticizing the worker. Workers can often be engaged in meaningless tasks, as illustrated in the scene where the Africans blast away at the rock face in order to build a railway, but the rock is not altered by the blasts and the cliff is not at all in the way.
The Company's Manager would seem to have a duty to run his business efficiently, but he cannot keep order and although he is obeyed, he is not respected. The Foreman, however, earns Marlow's respect for being a good worker. Marlow admires the way the Foreman ties up his waist-length beard when he has to crawl in the mud beneath the steamboat to do his job. Having a waist-length beard in a jungle environment can be seen as another act of madness, even from an efficient worker.
Chapter I of the novel ends with Marlow speculating on how Kurtz would do his work. But there is a larger sense in which the themes of work and responsibility figure. Marlow says, "I don't like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself. For himself, Marlow emerges with a self-imposed duty to remain loyal to Kurtz, and it is this responsibility which finally forces him to lie to Kurtz's fiancee.
As reason loses hold, doubt and ambiguity take over. As Marlow travels deeper inland, the reality of everything he encounters becomes suspect. The perceptions, motivations, and reliability of those he meets, as well as his own, are all open to doubt. Conrad repeatedly tells us that the heat and light of the wilderness cast a spell and put those who would dare venture further into a kind of trancelike state. Nothing is to be taken at face value. After the Russian leaves, Marlow wonders if he ever actually saw him.
The central ambiguity of Heart of Darkness is Kurtz himself. Who is he? What does he do? What does he actually say? Those who know him speak again and again of his superb powers of rhetoric, but the reader hears little of it. The Russian says he is devoted to Kurtz, and yet we are left to wonder why.
Kurtz has written a report that supposedly shows his interest in educating the African natives, but it ends with his advice, "Exterminate all the brutes! But what he found to say was "the horror! Was he a painter, a writer, a great musician, a politician, as he is variously described? Marlow settles for the ambiguous term, "universal genius," which would imply Kurtz was whatever one wanted to make of him.
The subject of racism is not really treated by Conrad as a theme in Heart of Darkness as much as it is simply shown to be the prevailing attitude of the day. The African natives are referred to as "niggers," "cannibals," "criminals," and "savages. The book presents a damning account of imperialism as it illustrates the white man's belief in his innate right to come into a country inhabited by people of a different race and pillage to his heart's content.
Kurtz is writing a treatise for something called the "International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. Kurtz bestows a kind of childlike quality upon the Africans by saying that white people appear to them as supernatural beings. The natives do, indeed, seem to have worshipped Kurtz as a god and to have offered up human sacrifices to him. This innocence proceeds, in Kurtz's view, from an inferior intelligence and does not prevent him from concluding that the way to deal with the natives is to exterminate them all.
Early in his journey, Marlow sees a group of black men paddling boats. He admires their naturalness, strength, and vitality, and senses that they want nothing from the land but to coexist with it. This notion prompts him to believe that he still belongs to a world of reason. The feeling is short-lived, however, for it is not long before Marlow, too, comes to see the Africans as some subhuman form of life and to use the language of his day in referring to them as "creatures," "niggers," "cannibals," and "savages.
He calls what he sees in their eyes the "deathlike indifference of unhappy savages. Marlow refers to the "savage who was fireman" as "an improved specimen. The violence and cruelty depicted in Heart of Darkness escalate from acts of inhumanity committed against the natives of the Belgian Congo to "unspeakable" and undescribed horrors. Kurtz representing European imperialists has systematically engaged in human plunder. The natives are seen chained by iron collars abut their necks, starved, beaten, subsisting on rotten hippo meat, forced into soul-crushing and meaningless labor, and finally ruthlessly murdered.
Beyond this, it is implied that Kurtz has had human sacrifices performed for him, and the reader is presented with the sight of a row of severed human heads impaled on posts leading to Kurtz's cabin.
Conrad suggests that violence and cruelty result when law is absent and man allows himself to be ruled by whatever brutal passions lie within him. Consumed by greed, conferring upon himself the status of a god, Kurtz runs amok in a land without law. Under such circumstances, anything is possible, and what Conrad sees emerging from the situation is the profound cruelty and limitless violence that lies at the heart of the human soul. The book's theme of moral corruption is the one to which, like streams to a river, all others lead.
Racism, madness, loneliness, deception and disorder, doubt and ambiguity, violence and cruelty—culminate in the moral corruption revealed by Kurtz's acts in the Congo. Kurtz has cast off reason and allowed his most base and brutal instincts to rule unrestrained. He has permitted the evil within him to gain the upper hand. Kurtz's appalling moral corruption is the result not only of external forces such as the isolation and loneliness imposed by the jungle, but also, Conrad suggests, of forces that lie within all men and await the chance to emerge. Kurtz perhaps realizes the depth of his own moral corruption when, as he lays dying, he utters "The horror!
The savage nature of man is thus reached at the end of the journey, not upriver, but into his own soul. Heart of Darkness is framed as a story within a story. The point of view belongs primarily to Charlie Marlow, who delivers the bulk of the narrative, but Marlow's point of view is in turn framed by that of an unnamed narrator who provides a first-person description of Marlow telling his story. The point of view can also be seen in a third consciousness in the book, that of Conrad himself, who tells the entire tale to the reader, deciding as author which details to put in and which to leave out.
Beyond these three dominant points of view are the individual viewpoints of the book's major characters. Each has a different perspective on Kurtz. These perspectives are often conflicting and are always open to a variety of interpretations. Whose point of view is to be trusted? Which narrator and which character is reliable? Conrad leaves these questions to the reader to answer, accounting for the book's complexity and multilayered meanings. The novel takes place in the s and begins on a boat sitting in the River Thames, which leads from London to the sea, waiting for the tide to turn.
Marlow's story takes the reader briefly onto the European continent Belgium and then deep into Africa by means of a trip up the Congo River to what was then called the Belgian Congo, and back to Europe again. The Congo is described as a place of intense mystery whose stifling heat, whispering sounds, and strange shifts of light and darkness place the foreigner in a kind of trance which produces fundamental changes in the brain, causing acts that range from the merely bizarre to the most extreme and irrational violence.
The book's structure is cyclical, both in geography and chronology. It begins in the s, goes back several years, and returns to the present. The voyage describes almost a perfect circle, beginning in Europe, traveling into the heart of the African continent, coming out again, and returning almost to the exact spot at which it began. The novel was originally published in serial form, breaking off its segments at moments of high drama to make the reader eager to pick up the next installment. When the full text was published in , it was divided into three parts.
Part I takes the story from the present-day life of the unidentified narrator to Marlow's tale, which began many years before and unfolds over a period of several months. It ends with Marlow expressing a limited curiosity about where Kurtz's supposed moral ideas will lead him. Part II takes the journey through a series of difficulties as it proceeds deeper into the African interior and finally arrives, some two months later, at the Inner Station.
It is here that Marlow meets the Russian and is told that Kurtz has "enlarged" his mind. The title of the book itself, Heart of Darkness , alerts the reader to the book's symbols, or items that suggest deeper interpretations beyond their literal meanings. The "heart of darkness" serves both as an image of the interior of a dark and foreign continent as well as the interior workings of the mind of man, which are dark and foreign to all observers. The literal journey into the jungle is a metaphor, or symbol, for the journey into the uncharted human soul. On another level, the voyage into the wilderness can be read as a voyage back to Eden, or to the very beginning of the world.
On still another level, the actual trip into and then out of the African continent can be seen as metaphor for sin and redemption. It parallels the descent into the depths of human degradation and death in Kurtz's case; near-death in Marlow's and the return to the light, or life. As the book begins, the Nellie is waiting for the tide to turn. This can also be taken as a metaphor for the brewing revolution in the Congo at the time, for the tide of history was about to turn. The dying Kurtz himself, who is half-French and half-English and of whom Marlow says, "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz," can be seen as a symbol for a decaying western civilization.
Other symbols in the book include the river, whose flow, sometimes fast and sometimes stagnant, mirrors the stream of life; the knitting women waiting outside Marlow's interview room, who recall the Fates of Greek mythology and thus can be seen as potential judges; and the cross-legged pose in which Marlow sits during his narration, suggesting the figure of the enlightened Buddha and thus a kind of supreme wisdom. The presentation of Kurtz as a talker, a voice who enlarges the mind of his listeners, can also be taken as a symbol for Conrad himself.
As a writer, Conrad talks to his listening readers and enlarges their view of the world. Marlow's function, too, is a metaphor for the author's: they both tell stories; they both make people see and feel. In , Joseph Conrad secured employment in the Congo as the captain of a river steamboat; this was also the approximate year in which the main action of Heart of Darkness takes place. Illness forced Conrad's return home after only six months in Africa, but that was long enough for intense impressions to have been formed in the novelist's mind.
Today, the river at the center of Heart of Darkness is called the Zaire and the country is the Democratic Republic of the Congo , but at the time Conrad wrote of them the country was the Belgian Congo and the river the Congo. The British, French, and Dutch Merchant Marines are associated with colonization and the development of manufacturing.
With the introduction of the steel steamship in the mid-nineteenth century, Great Britain takes first place in ship building and shipping. Today: The turbine and diesel engine bring new power and speed to shipping, and a new age of nuclear-powered shipping is launched. Ocean-going vessels are still the dominant means for world transport of commercial goods. The Brussels Act of is signed by eighteen nations and greatly limits the slave trade.
But forced labor continues in the Congo with appalling brutality as the lucrative trade in rubber and ivory takes up where trade in human beings left off. Today: Slavery is all but abolished throughout the world, although it is reported to still exist in parts of Africa and Asia. Antwerp Belgium and London are major centers of ivory commerce, with Europe and the U.
Today: The diminishing number of elephants, due largely to their wholesale slaughter for tusks, leads to a complete ban on ivory trading. A new method of determining the origin of a tusk through DNA testing enables zoologists to fight poaching and determine where the elephant population is large enough to safely permit a limited trade.
Leopold II never visits the Congo in person and when reports of atrocities committed there by his agents reach him, he order that all abuses cease at once. His orders are ignored. Belgium annexes the Congo in The Congolese army mutinied in and the Congo was declared independent. In , the country defaults on a loan from Belgium, resulting in the cancellation of development programs.
Since , a trend of political turmoil and economic collapse continues, even after a relatively bloodless revolution in They are mostly Roman Catholic and pursue what is known as the "white man's burden" to bring western religion, culture, and technology to the nations of Africa. Today: More than three-fourths of the inhabitants of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are Christian. Many also follow traditional religious beliefs and a substantial number belong to African Protestant groups.
The population of the Corgo comprises about two hundred ethnic groups, the majority of whom speak one of the Bantu languages, although the country's official language is French. European explorers first discovered the Congo River in and maintained a presence on it for hundreds of years thereafter, never traveling more than two hundred miles upstream.
It was not until , after the English-born American explorer Henry Morton Stanley had completed a three-year journey across central Africa, that the exact length and course of the mighty Congo River were known. Stanley discovered that the Congo extends some 1, miles into Africa from its eastern coast to its western edge, where the river empties into the Atlantic Ocean , and that only one stretch of it is impassable.
That section lies between Matadi, two hundred miles in from the mouth of the Congo, and Kinshasa, yet another two hundred miles further inland. Between those two places, one is forced to proceed by land, which is exactly what Marlow does on his "two hundred-mile tramp" between the two Stations, described in the book. Leopold II described his motives to the rest of Europe as springing from a desire to end slavery in the Congo and civilize the natives, but his actual desires were for material gain.
In , at the Congress of Berlin , an international committee agreed to the formation of a new country to be known as the Congo Free State. Instead, he formed a company, called simply the Company in Heart of Darkness , that ran the country for him. A prevalent feeling among Europeans of the s was that the African peoples required introduction to European culture and technology in order to become more evolved. The responsibility for that introduction, known as the "white man's burden," gave rise to a fervor to bring Christianity and commerce to Africa. What the Europeans took out of Africa in return were huge quantities of ivory.
During the s, at the time Heart of Darkness takes place, ivory was in enormous demand in Europe, where it was used to make jewelry, piano keys, and billiard balls, among other items. From to , the amount of ivory exported from the Congo Free State rose from just under 13, pounds to over a quarter of a million pounds. Conrad tells us that Kurtz was the best agent of his time, collecting as much ivory as all the other agents combined. This meant the Belgians could stop dealing with African traders and simply take what they wanted themselves.
As a consequence, Belgian traders pushed deeper into Africa in search of new sources of ivory, setting up stations all along the Congo River. One of the furthermost stations, located at Stanley Falls, was the likely inspiration for Kurtz's Inner Station. The Belgian traders committed many well-documented acts of atrocity against the African natives, including the severing of hands and heads.
Reports of these atrocities reached the European public, leading to an international movement protesting the Belgian presence in Africa. These acts, reflected in Heart of Darkness , continued, despite an order by Leopold II that they cease. In , after the Belgian parliament finally sent its own review board into the Congo to investigate, the king was forced to give up his personal stake in the area and control of the Congo reverted to the Belgian government.
The country was granted its independence from Belgium in , and changed its name from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Zaire in A relatively bloodless revolution in returned the country's name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When published in in a volume with two other stories Youth and The End of the Tether , Heart of Darkness was praised for its portrayal of the demoralizing effect life in the African wilderness supposedly had on European men.
One respected critic of the time, Hugh Clifford, said in the Spectator that others before Conrad had written of the European's decline in a "barbaric" wilderness, but never "has any writer till now succeeded in bringing … it all home to sheltered folk as does Mr. Conrad in this wonderful, this magnificent, this terrible study. In his review published in Academy and Literature in , Edward Gamett called the volume's publication "one of the events of the literary year.
For sheer excitement, Garnett compared Heart of Darkness favorably to Crime and Punishment , published by the great Russian novelist Dostoyevsky in Garnett calls Heart of Darkness "simply a piece of art, fascinating and remorseless. Kingsley Widmer noted in Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography that Conrad's literary reputation declined sharply in the mids, after the publication of Victory , which Widmer flatly called a "bad novel.
Widmer concluded that although "much of Conrad's fiction is patently poor," his sea stories contain a "documentary fascination in their reports of dying nineteenth-century merchant marine sailing experience. But he acknowledges that Conrad's best fiction, among which he counts Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, The Secret Sharer , and The Secret Agent , which he says may be "Conrad's most powerful novel," achieves a modernism that undercuts those heavyhanded Victorian characteristics and provides the basis on which Conrad's reputation justifiably rests.
In more recent years, Heart of Darkness has come under fire for the blatantly racist attitudes it portrays. Some critics have taken issue with the matter-of-fact tone in which Marlow describes Africans as "savages" and "niggers" and portrays African life as mysterious and inhuman. Noted Nigerian author Chinua Achebe , for instance, argued in a Massachusetts Review article that "the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot.
Despite such controversy, Heart of Darkness has withstood the test of time and has come to be seen as one of Conrad's finest works. The way in which Conrad presents themes of moral ambiguity in this novel, never taking a side but forcing the reader to decide the issues for him- or herself is considered a forerunner of modern literary technique. Guerard in his introduction to the novel, "are among the finest of Conrad's short novels, and among the half-dozen greatest short novels in the English language.
In the following essay, Attell, a doctoral candidate at the University of California — Berkeley, explores how Heart of Darkness has been viewed as both a commentary on the evils of colonialism and a philosophical exploration of the human psyche. Attell argues that critics who argue that the novel is either historical or philosophical "misses Conrad's insight that the two are in fact inseparable.
It was subsequently published in a collection of three stories by Conrad in The date of Heart of Darkness should be noted, for it provides a historical context which illuminates the story's relation to both the contemporary turn-of-the-century world to which Conrad responds in the tale, and also the influential role Conrad plays in the subsequent progress of twentieth-century literary history.
Traditionally there have been two main ways of approaching the interpretation of Heart of Darkness. Critics and readers have tended to focus on either the implications of Conrad's intense fascination with European colonialism in Africa and around the world, or they have centered on his exploration of seemingly more abstract philosophical issues regarding, among other things, the human condition, the nature of Good and Evil, and the power of language.
The former interpretive choice would concentrate on the ways Conrad presents European colonialism of which he had much first-hand experience, being a sailor himself , while the latter would primarily investigate Conrad's exposition of philosophical questions. Even a cursory reading of the tale makes it clear that there is ample evidence for both of these interpretive concerns.
What is perhaps less obvious, but equally important, is the way the historical reality which Conrad takes as his subject matter and the philosophical meditation to which Kurtz's story gives rise are intrinsically connected to one another. The turn of the twentieth century was a period of intense colonial activity for most of the countries of Europe. Conrad refers to European colonialism countless times in Heart of Darkness , but perhaps the most vivid instance is when Marlow, while waiting in the office of the Belgian Company, sees "a large shining map [of colonial Africa], marked with all the colours of the rainbow.
There was," he says, "a vast amount of red—good to see at any time, because one knows that some real work is done there, a deuce of a lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange, and, on the East Coast, a purple patch. I was going into the yellow. The map bears noting.