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The Trouble with “Heart of Darkness”

Free delivery worldwide. Bestselling Series. Harry Potter. Popular Features. New Releases. Heart of Darkness. Conrad's narrator Marlow, a seaman and wanderer, recounts his physical and psychological journey in search of the infamous ivory trader Kurtz: dying, insane, and guilty of unspeakable atrocities. Travelling upriver to the heart of the African continent, he gradually becomes obsessed by this enigmatic, wraith-like figure.

Marlow's discovery of how Kurtz has gained his position of power over the local people involves him in a radical questioning, not only of his own nature and values, but also those of western civilisation. His works explore the seedy underbelly of imperialism , the move of European countries to stake out claim to various far-flung parts of the world. Heart of Darkness is set right after the Scramble for Africa , the period of the late nineteenth century when imperial powers sliced up and doled out Africa like some particularly delicious—and ivory-rich—birthday cake.

None of the Western countries really come off looking good in this whole debacle, but Belgium, unfortunately, looks particularly bad. They were after the valuable ivory hidden away in the African Interior, and they weren't afraid to brutalize and oppress the Africans in order to get it. Heart of Darkness follows the disturbing journey of English ivory-trading agent Marlow, who, working for a Belgian company, travels into the jungles of Africa in search of a mysterious man named Kurtz who appears to have 1 become a god-like figure, and 2 gone totally off his rocker.

It's a searching exploration of difference : of good and evil, black and white, sanity and insanity. In the end, what we're left with is …nothing. Most contemporary critics agree that the novel is about the essential emptiness at the core of humanity—and language. That's why T. Eliot used a quotation from the novel as an epigraph to his poem " The Hollow Men ," a super important and famous literary exploration of modern life.

One last and important thing: in , Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe spoke out against the novel. He accused it of making its point by dehumanizing Africans and reducing them to extensions of the hostile and primal jungle environment. Conrad's language was beautiful and seductive, he said—but it was wrong. Beautiful, seductive, and wrong. To us, that sounds a lot like how Marlow would describe Kurtz—and it's a good example of how head-twistingly complex this novel is.

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Heart of Darkness Summary

This is going to take a while. For a simple—or is that complex? And we're not talking about the kind of squabbling that English PhD candidates engage in—the kind that includes obscure citations and footnotes. We're not talking about the arguments that arises in undergraduate survey courses. We're not even talking about the raised voices in an English Lit classroom in high school.

How Conrad’s imperial horror story Heart of Darkness resonates with our globalised times

We're talking about something way bigger. After all, this single book has influences artists as important as William Golding, T.

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Conrad's work has some staying power—including the power to get people to argue passionately. And we're going to hand the mic over to the good people at The Guardian so they can explain:. Heart of Darkness is probably the title that has aroused, and continues to arouse, most literary critical debate, not to say polemic. This is partly because the story it tells has the visceral simplicity of great myth, and also because the book takes its narrator Charles Marlow , and the reader, on a journey into the heart of Africa. The manager brings a deathly ill Kurtz onto the steamer.


A stunningly beautiful native woman, reputed to be the mistress of Kurtz, stares at the ship from the shoreline. The Russian discloses that she is involved with Kurtz and that she has caused problems before. He then shares with Marlow, after swearing him to secrecy, that Kurtz had been the one who ordered the attack on the steamer in hopes of making them believe that he had died so that they would turn around and abandon their plans.

The Russian than departs by canoe.

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  5. Marlow pleads with him to return to the ship and the set sail the following morning. The steamer breaks down, causing the crew to need to stop to repair the ship.

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    The horror! He too soon falls ill, and barely misses death. In a bid to bring peace to her shattered heart, Marlow lies and tells her that his last words were her name. Do not have an account? Sign-up here. By clicking "Log In", you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We'll occasionally send you account related and promo emails.