A Story of Life and Death in Heart of Darkness, a Novella by Joseph Conrad

From Life to Death Humans seem to overlook events that do not impact them directly. Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian-American novelist, once said: ”I think it is all a matter of love; the more you love a memory the stronger…it becomes” (Vladimir Nabokov Quotes). Nabokov makes a point that the more you care about a memory — whether that be of an event or of a person — the stronger that memory becomes. Heart ofDarkness, a novel written by Joseph Conrad, is a story within a story told by seaman Charles Marlow, who gives an account of his journey in the Congo experiencing events he had never hoped to experience.

Marlow, a European going on an imperialistic journey through the Congo, shares his condescending views of the Africans, the comprehensive observations of his helmsman, and the changing perspectives of Mr. Kurtz to demonstrate a correlation between the influence of one’s life and the impact of death, As Marlow first begins his journey into the Congo, he looks down on the Africans, viewing them as programmed workers and treating them as if they are hopeless, dying animals He accepts the Europeans‘ descriptions ofAfricans without giving a second thought to the jarring adjectives, including “enemies, criminals,“ and even “savages”.

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By not questioning these portrayals of the Africans, Marlow displays his closed-mindednessi As a European who is bringing light to the dark Congo, he looks down on the Africans like they are less than him He notices their quivering “dilated nostrils,” their “eyes [staring] stonily uphill” with the “deathlike indifference of unhappy savages”.

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Despite his awareness of their suffering, Marlow does not bother expressing sympathy for the Africans because their pain does not have an effect on him personally. Marlow witnesses Africans dying and describes them as “nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom”. The way Marlow dehumanizes Africans reflects how their deaths do not impact him in any way. He continues on with his journey, unaffected by this experience, until he eventually meets the helmsman who (although also African) influences him and his journey.

In contrast with the Africans previously seen in the Congo, Marlow regards his helmsman as important to his journey and survival. Marlow describes his helmsman as “athletic” and an “educated black” and draws attention to his brilliant appearance, including his ”pair of brass earrings” and “blue cloth wrapper” which falls from “the waist to the ankles”. This description varies from the previous description of the Africans and shows how Marlow is captivated by the helmsman. The helmsman has a more personal connection with Marlow, as he is the one who steers the boat transporting Marlow through the Congo, thus there is a bond of mutual trust between the two, When the steamboat is under attack and the helmsman is speared through his side, Marlow goes into great detail describing the man’s slow death, including how the helmsman “fell upon his feet” and “died without uttering a sound”, Marlow’s in-depth account and attentiveness to details of the helmsman’s death implies the strong impact the helmsman had on Marlow, especially as he goes on to share that he “missed [his] late helmsman awfully”. Compared to other Africans, whom Marlow saw as a mass of dehumanized, suffering shadows, the helmsman is characterized, described in detail, and has an emotional connection with Marlow that continues to influence him even after the helmsman’s death, This suggest that the more an individual means to Marlow, the more he grieves for them after their passing.

From the beginning of the journey, Kttrtz is described to Marlow as a great and powerful man. Before having any experience on the journey or information about the tasks carried out in the Congo, Marlow hears of Kurtz‘s reputation as “the best agent” and “an exceptional man, of the greatest importance to the Company.” Therefore, Marlow has high regard for Kurtz from the start based on all the wonderful things everyone had to say about him, Much like the Africans, Marlow does not question these descriptions of Kurtz, accepting them and viewing Kurtz as an archetype of a god. Once Marlow learns more about the operations behind the Company, he opens up to the idea that Kurtz is not the great man he is made out to be. For example, Kurtz threatened to shoot if he did not get the ivory, and he had so much power “there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing“ anyone he wanted to kill. When Kurtz’s true personality is finally described to Marlow, he is shocked by these facts. Though Marlow believes that Kurtz has done these things, he cannot stop thinking of Kurtz as a man of principles and power and, despite these harsh things, Marlow still respects Kurtzl At the end of the book when Marlow accepts Kurtz’s actions and finally meets him face to face, Marlow sees that “he is crawling on all»fours“ and slowly dying, but does “not betray [him]”. Marlow has respected Kurtz through this whole journey, from believing he was a remarkable man to knowing of his wrongdoings, and even as Kurtz withdraws from his life, Marlow still wants to meet him and talk. Although Kurtz has never heard of Marlow before the two meet, he entrusts Marlow with “a packet of papers and a photograph,” which Marlow then feels it is his duty to return to Kurtz’s Intended. Marlow treats Kuttz’s life as if it was lived by a distinguished man, and following his passing, Marlow continues to tell his and Kurtz’s story. Through his three differing experiences with people of different importance to him, Marlow expresses a range of impact of these people’s‘ deaths. From the insignificant Africans to his own helmsman and eventually the man whom he admired through his deception, Marlow shows how the importance of their life in relationship to him 7 whether he watched them pass by or delivered their final wishes — played into his mourning (or lack therof) when they died.

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A Story of Life and Death in Heart of Darkness, a Novella by Joseph Conrad. (2022, Jul 13). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-story-of-life-and-death-in-heart-of-darkness-a-novella-by-joseph-conrad-essay

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