Heart of Darkness is a novel authored by Joseph Conrad in 1899. It is about a narrated trip up the Congo river to find a man named Kurtz, in the heart of Africa. Marlow is the narrator and the main character of the novel. The Company wants Marlow to capture Kurtz and bring him back to the colonies.
Marlow sees many things in the Congo, and the evil changes how he views the world. The colonies think the actions they are taking for the African’s are helping them become more civilized and normal.
Marlow sees the real truth behind the pain and suffering of the Natives. Marlow and Kurtz are both slaves to the colonies, similarly to the Natives. Although they live in different worlds and have different morals, they both feel pity and humiliation for the actions of Britain.
Marlow is the seaman of the Nellie, the steamboat they would take up the Congo river to find Kurtz. Marlow is a servant of the Company; whose goal is to obtain Kurtz from the Congo and delivery him back to the colonies. The Company wants the ivory that Kurtz has obtained from the Congo and the Natives. Kurtz has lost contact with the Company, other than the occasional shipment of ivory to try and shut them up. The Company wishes the reestablish the communication with Kurtz. Thus, they send Marlow and the crew to capture and bring him back to the colonies. Little did they know that by sending Marlow, they severed the connection to Kurtz all together.
Marlow says suddenly “And this also, has been one of the dark places of the earth.” (Conrad 1). Marlow of course by the time he had said this was already out of the Congo. He was home safe with time past. He was referring to Landon as well. He had realized that with all that had happened with the Natives and their pain. None of it was their fault. They were just being the people they wanted to be when the colonies overthrew their land with guns and business. He finally saw true savagery, but not by the Natives.
The colonies did anything they needed to in order to get what they wanted. They came into the Native’s land killing and stealing. They called them savages and uncivilized. They put them to work and enslaved them. Left them to starve and fend for themselves after they worked them nearly to death. Many Natives died from starvation, dehydration, and wounds from being beaten. This was the reality of the Congo. Of course, the colonies thought what they were doing was the correct way to civilize the savages. It was making them a better society and there was nothing wrong about it to them. Now you tell me after knowing all this and seeing it first hand, who was the true savages and monsters?
Marlow coming from London and being a seaman could have possibly seen colored people. Although even if he did, he had never seen any like the Natives. Marlow descriptively says, [The Africans] howled, and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity like yours, the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly (Conrad 68-70). Marlow thought of it as ugly and uncivilized, but he also was drawn to it like the primitive side of him begged to be let out of its cage and join them in their savage ways.
Marlow sees a lot of pain and suffering in the Congo. He sees death first hand by overworking, starvation, and cruelty. Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. 1899. Handout:
“I avoided a vast artificial hole somebody had been digging on the slope, the purpose of which I found it impossible to divine. Then I nearly fell into a very narrow ravine, almost no more than a scar in the hillside. I discovered that a lot of imported drainage-pipes for the settlement had been tumbled in there. At last, I got under the trees. Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair.” (Conrad 28-29)
Marlow was different after this encounter of chaos. He sees the dead Natives for the first time but, he also sees the true actions of the colonies first hand. He sees what the colonies are truly doing to the Natives in order to achieve their goals of the land. Marlow feels pity for the Natives and their situation. He also feels ashamed for being a part of the pain and suffering they have to endure for the pleasure of the colonies.
Kurtz had also worked for the Company. His task was to collect as much ivory as possible and ship it back to the Company in the colonies. In order to achieve this, he had to go deep into the African jungle called the Congo. While he was there collecting the ivory for the Company, Kurtz had become acquainted with the Natives. Kurtz had admired the Natives in ways such as their physical beings and the ability to accomplish the society they have now using the primitive knowledge they possessed.
Kurtz got well acquainted with the Natives. They became friends in a way that they listened to him when he gave them orders. Marlow says, “He informed me, lowering his voice, that it was Kurtz who had ordered the attack to be made on the steamer. He hated sometimes the idea of being taken away – and then again. . (Conrad 124). The ship was attacked by the Natives under the order of Kurtz. He had become the authority figure to the Natives in so much that he could order them around. He says, “He was not afraid of the natives; they would not stir till Mr. Kurtz gave the word. His ascendency was extraordinary. The camps of these people surrounded the place, and the chiefs came every day to see him” (Conrad 113).
Kurtz had changed in many ways since he had been inside the heart of darkness. He and Marlow are the same in many ways. Perhaps if given time and being stuck in the Congo, Marlow was destined to be Kurtz. The thing that separated them and held Marlow back from becoming the new Kurtz was sanity. Kurtz had gone mad in the Congo. He lost his sense for humanity, society, and his ethics. He became a god essentially, to the Natives at least, and perhaps even to Marlow and the Russian. He acted with no regards to ethics, morality, or even the laws of the world. The Russian claims, “He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory and then cleared out of the country, because he could do so, and had a fancy for it, and there was nothing on earth to prevent him killing whom he jolly well pleased” (Conrad 110). Kurtz was crazy enough to shoot his own friend over a small amount of ivory. The Russian had even nursed Kurtz back to health and saved his life. Yet he was still willing to kill him over what little amount of ivory he had acquired.
Kurtz and Marlow had felt pity and compassion for the Natives. They did not like what the colonies were doing to the Natives at all. Nussbaum says, “Let us now ask what pity actually is, following the general lines of the analysis in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. Pity, Aristotle argues, is a painful emotion directed at another person’s misfortune or suffering” (8). If we think back to how Marlow first felt when he would see the pit, and the dead Natives under the tree from exhaustion and starvation. The way Kurtz got upset about having to leave the Natives and the little world that he had created and ruled over.
Kurtz was a man without any ethics at all. He was able to kill mercilessly and hang heads on poles in front of his own house to show his power. That is a man without virtue ethics. Appiah says, “corresponding to virtue ethics, there are vices. They are to be shunned as virtues are to be developed. These vices include irresponsible, inconsiderate, harsh, intolerant, selfish, cold, unsympathetic, rude, hypocritical, and on and on” (402). Kurtz was many of these things and much more. He ordered an attack on his own people. He was willing to kill everyone on the ship because he was afraid of leaving. He was cold enough to threaten his own caretaker for ivory and power. To top it all off, Kurtz was an unfaithful husband. He had carnal relations with a female Native. One that was in power over the other Natives as well.
Kurtz was a terrible person with many mental issues after his time in the Congo. Along with being an unfaithful husband to be and ruthlessly murdering anyone that halted his obsession with ivory. He also still never cared about his fianc?. He never even had the thought of her, not even on his death bed. Yet he had a faithful fianc? waiting for him at home with all the love and care in the world. “While the wife was enamored with Kurtz, still mourning more than a year after the news came. She is aware of his errand into the jungle, and the fact that he is the most successful of the company’s explorers, but not the means of his collection” (Grey). Kurtz could’ve put all the ivory, Natives, and power behind him, and returned home to this loving fianc? that was there waiting for him. Yet he did not. His love for the Congo was bigger than his love for his fianc?.
Kurtz and Marlow had many differences that separated them. They were different in ways such as sanity and culture. Marlow lived as a seaman, whose true home was the vessel at which he sailed on the water. Kurtz lived as a hunter for ivory and power with tribes that worshipped him. Yet, as different as they were and as different as their lifestyles were, they still had many similarities. They both felt pity for the less fortunate Natives. They both felt compassion for the way they were treated. They both admired the Natives for their accomplishments and way of life. These are but a few of the many differences and similarities Kurtz and Marlow have as human beings.