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Heart of Darkness Essay

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Heart of Darkness Essay

"You fellows know there are those voyages that seem ordered for the illustration of life that might stand for a symbol of existence" (Youth, Joseph Conrad). Discuss in relation to Heart of Darkness.

Marlow's voyage down the Congo River is a multi-dimensional journey, and the most significant effect it has on him by the end of the novel is a primarily moral and philosophical one, reflecting a great deal on the differing illustrations of life he has observed on his voyage, and struggling to fully comprehend the nature of man's existence. Through Marlow's long-winded recount of his journey deeper into the Congo, into what he describes as the "Heart of Darkness", we recognise the two major concerns pursuing his mind and conscience; both the ravenous truth behind colonisation and imperialism, and the more general and ethical concern of what truly lies at the heart of mankind. Through Marlow's recount, which is filled with vivid imagery, metaphors, irony, sarcasm, symbolism, caricatures, foreshadowing, structural devices, and complex descriptive language, we begin to understand the vague conclusions reached by Marlow about his philosophical concerns regarding the "Heart of Darkness".

Marlow's journey is a personal one, and through his own examination of the principles and ideas behind all that he observes in the Congo, he strives to achieve a sense of understanding about them. Even before Marlow begins his tale, the novel immediately sets up a deeper, more spiritual side to his eventual tale through imagery, lighting and the anonymous first-person narration. The novel opens with a mysterious and sombre mood, full of foreboding imagery of the "brooding" wilderness of their surroundings. The first image we have of Marlow is as a man who "resembled an idol", and he is the only member of the crew who is introduced to the reader with an actual name. Of all the crew, Marlow is described as alone maintaining a relaxed, upright, "ascetic" aspect. We are told by the anonymous narrator that the true meaning of Marlow's tales are usually not within the "kernel", the physical centre of the story, but in the "halo" of the tale, signifying already the vague nature of Marlow's eventual conclusions on his observations. By the end of the novel, when Kurtz's true nature is revealed to him, Marlow himself makes clear that "if anybody had ever struggled with a soul, I am the man", depicting to us the enormity of his journey on his thoughts and emotions. By the end of the novel, we return to the image of Marlow sitting "in the pose of a meditating Buddha", the same as he was depicted at the start of the novel, reflecting some sort of resolution of his journey, and some form of enlightenment gained by Marlow because of it.

One of Conrad's primary concerns in writing Heart of Darkness is targeting the hypocrisy and underlying brutality of imperialism and colonisation, which he explores through Marlow's narration of his journey through the Congo, incorporating numerous techniques and language devices within it. In Europe, he begins already with a contemptuous attitude towards the Company, mocking their feeble excuse for colonisation: their altruistic "noble cause". He describes the city of Brussels as a "whited sepulchre", a giant tomb, reflecting its positive and rich outside appearance in contrast to its hypocritical true nature. Marlow's Aunt is caricatured by Conrad as being symbolic of the rest of ignorant Europe who believe in the "philanthropic pretence of the whole concern"; that their sole purpose there is to civilise the natives. As Marlow continues his narration, he describes the Company men oxymoronically as "faithless pilgrims"; 'pilgrims' referring to their righteous Christian pretence for travelling to the Congo in the first place, and 'faithless' referring to the fact that they have no concern for morality, but rather shows their zeal for ivory and profit. He further describes in a sarcastic tone the entire affair of these Company men as a "merry dance of death and trade". Marlow also makes several comparative observations of the natives, describes the beat of their drums as possibly having "as profound a meaning as the sound of bells in a Christian country". By targeting such similarities, he strives to find connections between simply human beings, and to some extent undermines the pretence of colonising these peoples due simply to their inferior technology. Of course, the peak of Conrad's critique of imperialism stems from the character of Kurtz, who is eventually revealed to be the epitome of such imperialistic ambitions. Initially, an image is built up of Kurtz in Marlow's (and the reader's) mind as an idyllic figure of salvation and hope, "a beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade of course, but also for humanising, improving, instructing". Marlow states that "All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz", which illustrates a more symbolic significance when Kurtz's horrific nature is revealed, conveying a more widespread flaw in European colonialism.

The undercurrent of Conrad's novel, however, and the more intrinsic and ethical dilemma that Marlow explores, is situated in the novel's title, "Heart of Darkness". The primary psychological and moral concern that Marlow struggles to come to terms with throughout his journey is the core essence

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