In of social and individual regression. Additionally, he

            In his moral parable, Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
cautions against the darkness underlying humanity. He reveals the
omnipresent vulnerability of human nature to negative primal emotions such as
cruelty, avarice and self-preservation through his depiction of social and
individual regression. Additionally, he comments on the increasing fragility
and mutability of one’s morals as they are further removed from societal
strictures. Darkness is an ever-present theme throughout Marlowe’s journey,
both metaphorically and descriptively. It serves to represent various
components of human nature, political corruption as a means of acquiring power
and Marlowe’s experience of the Congo itself. 
Effectively comparing civilized brutality with primitive savagery, Conrad
parallels the political turmoil of “Scramble for Africa” with the impact it had
on a personal level.

            From
1881 to 1914, the systematic exploitation of Africa provided a politically
benevolent façade through which European Imperialists could disguise their lust
for power and greed. The prevailing propaganda generated by the government at
the time was that of generous Europeans bestowing “enlightenment” upon the
“savages” of the Congo. The chief of the Inner Station was in “want of the
guidance of the cause entrusted to us by Europe …higher intelligence, wide
sympathies, a singleness of purpose” (30). These noble ideals are quickly
called into question. When asked by Marlowe his intention for coming to Africa,
a travel companion remarks “to make money of course. What do you think” (24).

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Even King Leopold II of Belgium engaged in the collective lust for ivory — in a
sense falling victim to his darker desires through the “vilest scramble for
loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience”.i

            It
is important to consider the parallels between Joseph Conrad and his
protagonist, Marlowe. Having travelled to the Congo himself, Conrad employs Marlowe
as the literary representation of his own experiences and realizations. Both
men’s sense of boyish adventure was sparked through early adolescent discovery
of world maps. Both men began their journey naively, filled with wonder and
discovery. Both men became increasingly disillusioned with the moral failings
of humanity as they journeyed further into the Congo. Conrad’s use of Marlowe
as the silence breaker of the atrocities he witnessed is founded on actual
events, imbuing both the book and his claims with the veracity of his own
experience. As they journey further into the Heart of Darkness, both men are
introduced to shifting and multiple hearts of darkness grappling to obtain
control and power.

            Though
he only makes a brief appearance in the novel, the Accountant personifies the
Company’s intended disguise and self-preservation fed by an immense lack of
empathy.  Amidst chaos and dying natives,
the Accountant is presented as a “vision” of white dressed in “a high starched
collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers and a clear silk
necktie” (21). His external cleanliness suggests a desire to retain a semblance
of morality and reflects the Company’s desire to project their high-minded ideals.

Further, the Accountant’s chief concern is maintaining an illusion of purpose
and order amidst the “muddle” that is the Inner Station. Upon hearing the “groans”
of a dying native, he complains of the distraction causing “clerical errors”
(22). He represents the ultimate non-acting bystander, remaining unmoved by the
uncivil acts within the Inner Station and rather concerning himself with the
native women’s proper pressing of his shirts.

            The
Manager, whom Marlowe meets at the Central Station, is “commonplace…in features,
in manners and in voice” (25). He is, in every aspect, average, inspiring “neither
love nor fear, not even respect”; yet he possesses the most “remarkably cold”
eyes and an attitude of avarice and sabotage (25). He has no redeeming
characteristics and remains manager only because he is immune to jungle
sickness. Obsessed with corporate advancement, he is representative of greed
and power-hungry bureaucracy. Acknowledging that, “anything can be done in this
country” (40) he feels no shame in sabotaging Marlowe’s boat, thus serving
Kurtz a death wish by purposely delaying delivery of necessary supplies. The Manager
is a moral vacuum and exemplifies the degradation that occurs when one is
removed from society and concedes to underlying obsessions.

            The Russian, a simple-minded sycophant
who accompanies Marlowe for much of his journey, represents the dangers of
blind, unquestioning idolatry. His hero worship of the morally misguided Kurtz
is akin to cult members who blindly follow a charismatic leader even to the
point of darker actions. Marlowe comments upon the Russian’s adoration for
Kurtz stating, “I did not envy him his devotion to Kurtz…I must say that to me
it appeared about the most dangerous thing in every way he had come upon so far”
(69-69). He possesses a naivety that is blind to the cruelty and corruptness of
Kurtz’s actions. Though the Russian himself is not malevolent and is one of the
few white men who does not directly inflict brutality on others, his loyalty to
Kurtz perpetuates the cycle of Imperialistic savagery. Upon meeting him Marlowe
states “never before did this land … appear to me so hopeless and so dark”
(69). As another example of a bystander, he is not unprincipled, but he accepts
the atrocities that take place without issue.

            Kurtz, arguably the most immoral and
power crazed character in the novel, is a by-product of the prevailing European
mindset. It is through his demonstrated hunger for power and lack of empathy
that Conrad presents his assault on European imperialism. Acknowledging that “all
Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” (61), Marlowe consistently comments
on his self- absorption, reversed morality and lust for a material object (ivory).

It is Kurtz’s metamorphoses that convey a sense of omnipresent vulnerability to
and shifting of Conrad’s multiple ‘hearts’ of darkness. First made known
through hearsay and rumor, Kurtz is presented as a genius and revered ivory
hunter. It is later in the novel, when Kurtz has metamorphosed into a voice, that
the reader is introduced to his greed — for not only is he introduced as a
voice but also as the object of his own lust. Conrad writes, “he was very
little more than a voice…and, behold, it was like a ball — an ivory ball” (59).

Finally, when Marlowe meets Kurtz in the flesh, the reader recognizes the
depravity of the actions he has taken to become worshipped by the surrounding natives.

It is in these final pages of the novel that Conrad uses Kurtz to make a statement
about greater humanity. The heads on stakes under Kurtz’s windows depicts his
excessive brutality and cruelty. Conrad utilizes the jarring image to display
the “lack of restraint” that Kurtz possesses regarding the “gratification of
his various lusts” (72). Conrad alludes to the larger allegation that all of
mankind wrestles with the gratification of such lusts that developed society
represses to leave simmering beneath our civilized façade. He exemplifies the
depravity of behavior when one is “without a policeman … where no warning voice
of a kind neighbor can be heard whispering of public opinion” (60).

Representing the ultimate departure from his upbringing, Kurtz finds himself in
a solitary impermeable darkness.

            Kurtz is a threat to the Company because
he has openly embraced his darker urges and makes no attempt to conceal his rapacious
methods for obtaining ivory. This contradicts the Company’s attitude of
concealing true motives under the guise of good intentions. This supports the
idea that society acts to repress the fulfillment of negative primal urges. Europe
displayed this repression in the generation of exaggerated reports, publishing
of false photos and creation of unnecessary committees to justify their presence
in Africa. As the novel progresses, and with each character Marlow meets, he is
further removed from Europe and travels closer to the “heart of darkness” of
humanity. He also goes from a predominately passive character to one that becomes
increasingly involved and panicked at the state of humanity. Traveling away
from the Inner Station and towards the wilderness, he simultaneously journeys
to the center of his disillusion and eventual truth. Marlow realizes that by
unfocusing himself on minutiae and mire of daily European life, he can no
longer avoid the ultimate knowledge of self. This transformation is reflected
in the final scene between Marlow and the Intended. Upon the Intended’s request
for Kurtz’s final words, Marlow realizes that he cannot reveal the horrors of
human nature that he discovered in the Congo. Acknowledging that, for her, the
revelation would be “too dark—too dark altogether” (96) Marlow opts to uphold
her vision of Kurtz before he traveled to the Congo — a man filled with
nobility and purpose. In sustaining her false and outdated image of Kurtz,
Marlow is confirming the likeness of the Intended to Europe as a whole, as both
wish to believe in the magnanimity of the imperialists while turning a blind
eye to the “darker” and crueler aspects of their disposition.

i Last Essays, in Dent’s Collected Edition of the Works of
Joseph Conrad, 22 vols, p.17

x

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