Heart of Darkness


Throughout the story, Heart of Darkness, there is a thin line between what is seen as reality and what is illusion. The main character soon realizes that he has different interpretations of events and physical things than that of the Europeans. Charlie Marlow first realizes how many things, events and even people, in Africa, seemed misnamed by the Europeans, distorting them from what they truly are. Consequently he is wary of labeling something in case he might misname it and as a result devalue it. In the end, Kurtz, who has already reached enlightenment, will be the one to teach Marlow, though not directly, the significance of a name. Charlie Marlow is the only one to be referred to by his name because through his journey to the inner station and consequent enlightenment, he alone, with Kurtz, have realized the importance of a name and therefore deserve to have one attached to them, as they are really the only people of actual importance and meaning. As soon as Marlow reaches the coast of Africa, he realizes a difference in the perception of certain events by him and his comrades on the boat. As Marlow?s boat pulls up to the Outer Station, he sees a man-of-war shelling the continent, which is quickly clarified, by a pilgrim, to be a front against "a camp of natives - he called them enemies! - hidden out of sight somewhere" (Conrad 78) Marlow felt a "touch of insanity" in the whole concept of shelling the natives, who had done nothing to be considered enemies or criminals and had very likely fled the area a long time ago. Yet the Europeans feel that the natives are truly a threat and must be controlled. Further along, Marlow meets a pilgrim who is called the brick-maker, yet promptly notices that there is "not a scrap of brick anywhere in the station". This is another example of how something, in this case the brick-maker, is misnamed, as he is not actually a brick-maker since he does not make any bricks at all, and therefore really has no purpose there. A final example of how things are misnamed and distorted is pertaining to Kurtz. Firstly, "kurtz" means short, yet to Marlow, the man appears to be "seven feet long" (Conrad 135). Likewise, when the uncle and the nephew talk about Kurtz, who Marlow has heard to be a great and remarkable man, they only refer to him as "that man" and "scoundrel". By not referring to him by his name, they do not refer to him as a human being with abilities and dignity, but as a thing, therefore stripping him of his humanity. After seeing how misnaming things can devalue them and cause much misinterpretation, Marlow has trouble naming things in fear of devaluing them. When the natives are attacking his boat he refers to the arrows and spears as "little sticks" and "canes"; when he reaches the inner station, he describes the heads on the posts as "slim posts in a row, with their upper ends ornamented with round carved balls" (Conrad 126). He is even wary of even formulating names for the simplest of things, in case he devalues something like the Europeans do. It is this understanding of the insignificance of meaningless labels that the Europeans had, and conversely the importance of his making things meaningful that will lead to Marlow?s enlightenment. Since he is not corrupted by the materialistic ideals of the rest of them, he is able to see the situation with an objective view and reflect upon it. Also, he feels a certain bond between the natives when he sees them dancing about on the shore, which shows that Marlow is looking into his subconscious: "but if you were man enough you would admit to yourself that there was in you just the faintest trace of a response to the terrible frankness of that noise, a dim suspicion of there being a meaning in it which you could comprehend." (Conrad 106) Since the Europeans thought only about subjugating the natives and hording ivory, they were not "in-tune" with their subconscious and therefore unable to find the truths and the reality within them. The natives represented simple reality uncorrupted by European values of physical wealth, which Marlow noticed. After meeting Kurtz, who teaches him about self-truth and reality, in a more