Heart Of Darkness


The Horror
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is a novel where the main character Marlow is telling a story of a trip to the Congo. This novel is said to possibly be an autobiography of Conrad?s life at sea. This is said because Conrad was a seaman for a many years and went into Africa many times. The story is so powerful that even after 100 years, we still struggle with its meaning. This story has been retold by Francis Ford Coppola in the film Apocalypse Now. Chinua Achebe has recently explored Conrad?s ideas on imperialism. Achebe believed Conrad?s book presented a racist view of the people of Africa and Achebe in his own book, Things Fall Apart, presented imperialism through the eyes of the Africans.
The story of Heart of Darkness is being told to four men on the deck of the Nellie. The story being told is about one of Marlow?s expeditions to the Congo in search of an Ivory hunter named Kurtz. When Marlow found Kurtz in the Congo, Kurtz had "gone native" Marlow found, "a head that seemed to sleep at the top of that pole," outside of Kurtz?s house and Kurtz had been hunting with tribes in the area (Conrad, 73). When Marlow arrived Kurtz, was ill and dying. Kurtz cried out the words "The horror! The horror!" right before he died (Conrad, 85). These words cried out by Kurtz as he died created the most important passages in Heart of Darkness. The way this one passage is interpreted determines how the book is interpreted.
One interpretation is that the "horror" is death and Kurtz is realizing he is dying. Kurtz is horrified at the thought of dying and is crying out in pain of the realization. Kurtz may be afraid to die in the heart of darkness. Kurtz may be afraid to die knowing that he will never see his intended again and he may feel guilty for leaving his intended for his savage life. This interpretation shows a book about lost love and guilt for finding a new life. This interpretation is one of the less complex and uninteresting interpretations.
Now here is a more interesting and complex interpretation. Some view Heart of Darkness as a racist book. This interpretation comes from the view that the "horror" Kurtz is identifying is his being brought "down" to the African ways. This interpretation sees the African ways as uncivilized and horrid to Kurtz when he realizes he was at their level. Kurtz realizes that he is at the African?s level when he sees Marlow and Marlow?s civilized ways.
Also in the book Conrad talks about Africans in degrading and outright racist ways. The Africans are viewed as savage barbarians who are uncivilized and therefore inferior to civilized people. One argument against this interpretation is that these were the ideas of the time and when Conrad used degrading names for the Africans he was just using the excepted language of the time and expressing the views of the time. Just because the ideas and language were excepted at the time does not make the views not racist in any manner. The time period that Conrad wrote in was the height of imperialism. The late 18th and early 19th century was a very racist time period and the excepted ideas were extremely racist. Conrad was not a bad person for believing these things because they were the excepted ideas at the time but the ideas were racist. This interpretation of the "horror" being the horror of the uncivilized would mean that the book was a racist book.
The "horror" has also been interpreted as the horror of the inner human soul (Beaconschool, 1). When someone is taken out of civilization they are unbounded by civilization when this happens, the inner human soul lets out its natural evilness. This interpretation suggest that humans are naturally evil and evil is in the heart of our souls. Civilization just keeps that "evil" at bay and once someone is unbounded by civilization the evil comes out. This interpretation shows us that Conrad?s novel is essentially a psychological novel. The heart of darkness is the darkness in the human soul and Conrad?s novel is telling the story of someone finding the inner darkness. That person is Kurtz and when Kurtz cries out "The horror!" he has found the horror of the inner soul within him. In