In the book Heart of Darkness, Conrad gives us a negative impression of human nature. Conrad’s views of human nature are very pessimistic and he gives us the feeling that humans are in fact inhuman and as we read on these terrible images of the evil deeds of humans keeps reoccurring. In reality many of human characteristics we possess resemble those given in the book. However, we also catch glimpses of the caring and helpful side of man shown through Marlow and the Russian. The author uses different characters to explore different aspects of human nature.
Each character has his own distinctive identity and through his individuality we are able to identify with many of the views and ideas Conrad is trying to communicate. In order to fully understand the concepts of human nature, we have to classify the characters in the novel into three different categories. The first category is comprised of the Europeans, but excludes Kurtz and Marlow. The reason Marlow doesn’t fit with the Europeans is because he refuses to follow their example and act as they do. Kurtz meanwhile has drifted into his own little world.
The second category is made up of the natives, while Kurtz and Marlow together form the third category. We can see a clear contrast between the Europeans and the natives. They are different in everyway, especially the way they interact with each other. The Europeans in general who live in Africa form the first category. The manager, his nephew and the pilgrims are the main characters representing the European category. The way the Europeans force the natives to work in such appalling conditions; the men walking chained and the man being beaten unmercifully (p. 39) are all good examples of the brutality the Europeans brought to Africa.
The pilgrims, meanwhile, are shown as the typical colonizers. The pilgrims have no value for the life of another person, they show this when they shoot the natives for fun. They kill the people just because they are alive. Killing people just for the fun of it takes human cruelty past the limit. “…. save the ivory you mean…. ” (p. 100) Greed is another horrid but powerful characteristic of man. Greed motivates people to the extent that they the Europeans have come to Africa in the name of greed, sacrificing life in their own countries and time with their own families. They have come for the wealth that Africa will give them.
The manager is probably the best example; he is a person whose sole objective is to acquire and keep ivory. Then we come to the second category which consists of natives. Throughout the book Conrad refers to them as “savages” and in this context the word implies that the natives are wild, uncivilized, and uneducated people. We know that, compared to the Europeans, the natives are in fact more civilized and educated in the way they act. “They are simple people… ” (p. 102) as the Russian puts it. “Simple people” meaning that they were not as sophisticated and didn’t have big ambitions like the Europeans.
The cannibals, the fireman, the helmsman and the rest of the Africans we meet in this novel are the representatives from this category. The cannibals are shown as the typical Africans in contrast to the pilgrims, the typical Europeans. The cannibals are actually hard working, well behaved people and according to Marlow “… fine fellows… they were men one could work with, and I was grateful for them… ” (p. 61). Their behaviour on the boat, their will to work even though they are paid nothing and how they eat practically nothing are demonstrations of a great character strength, which Marlow envies.