Appunti, Tesina di, appunto inglese

HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad

ricerca 1
ricerca 2



Joseph Conrad


Joseph Conrad was born in 1857, in the Russian-dominated Ukraine, of Polish parents, both of whom died when he was quite young. He sailed all over the world, but mainly to the Far East, which was to become the setting of many of his novels and stories. He died in 1924 in the south-east of England where for some time he had devoted himself to writing.


From the beginning of his long journey, Marlow faces the terrible reality of the destructive process in which the white man is engaged in Africa. Conrad shows that the idealistic view of Colonialism shared by many of his contemporaries (that is, spreading the light of civilization among primitive people) is in reality nothing but exploitation and cruelty. ( p.44)

Indeed, although Marlow uses the racist language of his days, he talks about the European invasion as an absurd invasion [ "KARAIN" ].

In the text, the first narrator has a positive view of colonialism, he considers London as an example of civilization. But his voice is the voice of the Londoners.

Marlow, instead, who is actually Conrad, in his tale denies this positive view, these certainties because of his personal experience.

So, the atrocities, the exploitation and the hypocrisy which Conrad observed fully convinced him of the disparity between imperialism's rhetoric and the reality of that place.

As we have already said, Heart of Darkness is the result of an autobiographical experience.

His scepticism about "the imperial mission" can be related to the fact that he was born in a Poland divided among Austria, Prussia and Russia, and that his parents were patriots exiled for their political struggle against Russian oppression.

In 1890 Conrad went to Africa to captain a trading vessel on the Congo river for a Belgian company. The experience was not a happy one because Conrad fell ill with malaria, and his nerves were severely affected by both the climate and the savagery of the Congolese people.

So, Heart of Darkness is a real journey to discover the Congo, which had never been pointed on the map before.

Heart of darkness is not only the discovery of the darkest Africa but also the discovery of an unknown part of London: the EAST END (the industrial area, densely populated, north of the River Thames). This was the poor and depressed part of the empire forgotten by everybody but from there came civilization [on the map: East End: BLACK; West End (the western part of central London, where there are the main shopping and entertainment areas with large shops, theatres, expensive hotels, etc.): RED]

Marlow's journey starts from Brussels (which is the centre of Europe) and then reaches England. In this way, Conrad criticizes not only the Belgian civilization but also the whole Western civilization.

So, the book becomes an accusation against "every white colonialism".

Kurtz itself is not a British name, it's a German name. This element put the character away from the British reality and it catches the attention on the whole Europe. Like Kurtz, every character in the text belongs to different European nations.

"Modern colonizers" can be considered the sons of the "ancient Roman conquerors".

But they are worse than their fathers because the "robbery with violence" of the ancient Roman conquerors was something explicit and declared which didn't hide itself behind the hypocritical pretence of the "civilizing mission" [ "AN OUTPOST OF PROGRESS" ].

So, the heart of darkness is the western civilization itself. It has obscured with its darkness the white heart of Africa

Western civilization has transformed the "blank space" of Africa into " a place of darkness".

It's not by chance that the tale starts and ends with a scene of "darkness" concerning London and therefore the civilization.

Now London is seen as sensations, feelings, it vanishes in the fog and smoke. Its features and its colours are not clear, bright. It's like an impression.

European civilization appears an absolute vacuum.

p: 38 "In the empty immensity of earth, sky, a ship was, incomprehensible, firing into a continent".

There are also holes everywhere.

The characters live following the rules of the western countries. It shows their devotion to their roots but also that the white man desires to carry there the west and, at the same time, its vacuum.

The company's agents themselves (from the company's chief accountant to the manager → "perhaps there was nothing within him") are "hollow men".

Marlow says about the brickmaker p.78 and then about Kurtz, he is "empty inside".

On the other hand, the blacks are seen in their entirety not as individual. They are grotesque masks moving about like ants (so animals, not people). They advance in a file, in silence with an iron collar on their necks and all are connected together with a chain, like animals. Their eyes, enormous and vacant, look up at nothing. They are black shadows of disease and starvation without energy and vitality. ( p.42-48 ; 36)

[contrast between the black skin and the white eyes and teeth]

In this sense, Kurtz is a symbol of the "lie" of colonialism. He was a very remarkable man, he was a prodigy, an emissary of pity, science and progress. He went to Africa with a lot of moral ideas but, once there, he became the symbol of conquest, exploitation and massacre. p. 216 ; p.154


Heart of darkness has been read as a journey into the unconscious.

When man is free from rules, from his social background, from everything and he is surrounded by a great wilderness, this place awakes his forgotten and brutal instincts.

An idealistic, civilized European like Kurtz can be transformed into a bloodthirsty tyrant, even more savage than the natives he oppresses.

This because savagery is inside the white man produced by western civilization which doesn't recognize the darkness of the human heart and puts it into the unconscious.

Marlow's journey is an experience of knowledge. It is a journey of a man who goes down to the Hades (the land of the dead in the stories of ancient Greece) that is, the Heart of Africa.

Marlow's nightmare journey is linked to Dante's imaginary journey in the INFERNO.

But when Marlow goes up to the Congo, he discovers himself, the dark part of the human heart. In this sense, he discovers the evil and, above all, the truth: the abomination is Kurtz and his civilization, not savage people.

Indeed, the heart of Africa is white in contrast with the black one of Kurtz.

In Heart of Darkness, during his journey up to the Congo, Marlow has to face difficulties connected with the wild nature of the environment and the hostility both of the white and black people he meets.

As he enters the unknown country, his moral strength and self control are more and more tested.

At the end he is not hting the wilderness outside but rather the spell that Kurtz's personality casts over him. Marlow too is tempted by the wilderness like Kurtz. But Marlow, unlike Kurtz, reacts to this temptation and saves himself thanks to work.

Work is seen as a "control over wilderness "

Marlow prefers to stay in the light, he doesn't jump "over the edge", he doesn't choose wilderness.


It's a NOVELLA, a "long short story" not a novel because there is a reduction of the es and of what you want to say.

It's not divided in chapters (like Victorian novel), but is a CONTINUUM.

There isn't a presentation. We directly get into the discourse.

Conrad writes it in English, that is for him his third language, after Polish and French.

It doesn't give any certainties.

In fact, in the 1870s the British economy entered a period of depression which lasted for the rest of the century. So, British was afraid of anarchic movements which could destroy the social and political stability.

There were also significant changes in literature. While the novelists of the first part of the period saw themselves as entertainers and were optimistic about improving the society they belonged to and wrote for, the writers of the second half of the century hadn't got any certainties. They were the symbol of a crisis.

Conrad uses a lot of contrasts and paradoxes: EVERYTHING IS THE CONTRARY OF EVERYTHING.

The paradox has the function to create a sort of perturbation.

Examples of paradoxes are:

- "civilization can be barbaric";

- "society saves us from corruption but society is corrupted;

- "man lives in a big town with a lot of people but he's always ALONE".

Heart of darkness is a "tale within a tale". At the beginning, an anonymous narrator describes the place and the situation. Inside of it, it's Marlow that tells the story. The frame creates a sort of detachment from the tale.

The third person narrator is abandoned in favour of a first person narrator, Marlow, a middle-aged seaman who tells a story and makes comments about it.

There are few female ures in the text:

Marlow's aunt who treats him in a friendly way. She helps Marlow to get appointed skipper of a river   steamboat;

Sometimes appears a black woman, she's a Kurtz's slave.

A white girl of Brussels. She was Kurtz's girlfriend waiting for his lover to return.

About religion, Marlow seems usually a sceptic, because he believes in a supernatural evil, that he associates with the people of the African jungle.

The story is told by Marlow, a retired English sailor, who, on board the Nellie, a boat on the Thames, talk a group of friends about his journey up the Congo river, in the heart of Africa.

While he enters the country to get to the steamboat which will take him to an ivory collecting station, he witnesses the cruel exploitation of the natives by the white ivory traders.

The white of the ivory hints at the white of the bones: so, the IDEA OF DEATH surrounds the ivory trade.

Marlow hears that Kurtz, the best agent of the Belgian company, has fallen ill. So, they need a man who can replace him.

Marlow doesn't know Kurtz yet but begins to know him through the words of many people who Marlow meets during his difficult journey through the mysterious, threatening jungle.

When Marlow reaches the Inner Station he meets Kurtz: the civilized trader has been transformed into a ure of evil worshipped by the Africans as a god; therefore, Kurtz can be ed with a modern Faust, who has sold his soul for power and gratification

On the way back down the river, Kurtz dies and his last words are "the horror, the horror". Back in Belgium with some letters for Kurtz's girlfriend, Marlow lies to her, because of the girl's sorrow, saying that Kurtz's last words were her name. He doesn't have the heart to say her the truth

The book ends with an image of dark.

First published in 1899, Heart of darkness belongs to the late nineteenth century but is a book  considered "ahead of its times" because it anticipated many 20th century preoccupations such as the sense of human isolation and the problematic nature of communication.

The First World War showed how men could be destroyed by man-made organizations and technology. Conrad seemed to have anticipated this in his description of the ways in which men in Africa served and died for a corrupted organization.

Hitlerism and the Holocaust seem to have been anticipated in the description of Kurtz's charismatic corruption.

The sea represents a body whose rivers are the veins through which blood flows.


Apocalypse Now, by Francis Ford Coppola is a film on the Vietnam War based on Heart of darkness.

In Apocalypse Now the role of Colonel Kurtz is played by Marlon Brando.

Heart of darkness attracted Coppola and other film-makers (as Orson Welles) because of the possibility to identify with Kurtz.

The main technique used in Apocalypse Now is based on disorientation in time and space, the same already used by Conrad in order to grow the sense of horror in the landscape of Congo.

The most important element in Apocalypse Now is the river, central to Conrad's text too, with the difference that while in Conrad's text the river is like a snake, in Coppola's film it becomes a lethal electric cable.


© ePerTutti.com : tutti i diritti riservati
Condizioni Generali - Invia - Contatta