Heart of Darkness follows Marlow, a riverboat captain, on a voyage into the African Congo at the height of European colonialism. Astounded by the brutal depravity he witnesses, Marlow becomes obsessed with meeting Kurtz, a man of legendary idealism stationed farther along the river. What he finally discovers, however, is a horror beyond imaging.
“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretense you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to….” (pg. 50)
There is so much packed into every word of Heart of Darkness that if you’re not careful, if you don’t slow down and contemplate every word the story and beauty of the novel will fly by unnoticed. I think that’s why so many people don’t give Conrad’s classic novel the credit it deserves.
Here’s a man for whom English is a third language, and, yet, Heart of Darkness is so beautifully written – almost like a long poem.
“The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The was shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooden rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. 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. And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men.” (pg. 46)
Conrad’s writing is fascinating, grisly, thought-provoking, and beautiful. The reader can feel the sweat trickle down their brow, their heart racing in panic as arrows are flung at the steamboat; they can see the thick flog ahead and hear Marlow’s sanity slip away.
“Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbacks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broading waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost you way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once — somewhere far away — in another existence perhaps.” (pg. 88)
Marlow, the narrator, travels deep into the heart of the Congo during the height of European colonialism to reach a renegade ivory hunter named Kurtz. The story, though, is not an adventure, but rather a physiological exploration — the lost of sanity as man gets farther and farther away from “civilization.”
“I looked around, and I don’t know why, but I assure you that never, never before, did this land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so pitiless to human weakness.” (pg. 120)
“The rest of the world was nowhere, as far as our eyes and ears were concerned. Just nowhere. Gone, disappeared; swept off without leaving a whisper or a shadow behind.” (pg. 97)
I think a second read would be most beneficial; there are so many symbols I didn’t pick up on with this first read that I believe rereading Heart of Darkness would help me find things I missed. Heart of Darkness is slow, and I’m not sure I ever really “got into it.” However, there is so much insight and importance packed in this novel that I enjoyed reading and examining every word.
- Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003. Originally published 1902. Print. 105 pgs. ISBN: 9781593080211. Source: PaperBackSwap.