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Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Joseph Conrad, and is based on a narration by an Englishman who takes an assignment from a Belgian Company as a river boat captain in Congo. The story shows three levels of darkness namely; how the colonialists treated the natives, the darkness in the Congo wilderness and the darkness in every human being when they do evil things. This essay seeks to identify a causal claim in the story relating to the authors way of manipulating the readers expectations and reactions. It examines how Conrad’s description causes the reader to identify certain sympathies in the novella. The darkness that is the African wilderness causes darkness of the heart in Kurtz making him a very manipulative evil man.
Kurtz is an ivory trader sent to Africa by the company, and with the aim to bring civilization to the natives as described in his report. His purpose for coming to Africa was “humanizing, improving, instructing” the natives (Conrad 47). The author describes his charisma and eloquence when he arrives from Europe. He is a charming philanthropist who, upon his arrival, had the interests of the natives at heart. As the reader, one feels admiration for this man with such noble intentions.
When he gets to Congo, he abandons all his good intentions for the natives, and lets the savage in him take over. As much as we want to label him morally sick due to his actions in the jungle, he is just an exaggeration of the impulses we have inside us. According to the author, Kurtz’s illness was caused by madness. The madness was due to the continued isolation in the African wilderness. He lets his savage side loose in the jungle, doing all kinds of evil, and eventually this causes madness that gradually kills him. Conrad describes Kurtz’s power over the natives and the company through his control over vast amounts of ivory. The natives regard him as a god, and adore him and he is able to trick them into giving him the ivory, and this gives him leverage with the company that lets him do whatever he pleases as long as he keeps the piles of ivory coming. Different characters respond differently to Kurtz; Marlow is fascinated by him, the manager envies and despises him, and the harlequin worships him. As the reader, the reaction and expectation of the story is influenced by what the author communicates about the characters.
The author blames the African jungle for the death of Kurtz. In the beginning of the story, the description of the eloquent, charming Englishman that comes to aid in civilization of the native is a sharp contrast to the ivory raiding, crazy man roaming the Congo jungle. The African wilderness in this novella is described as a dark continent with uncivilized savage natives whom the white man thought they could civilize and humanize. According to the author, the African continent is to blame for the heart of darkness unleashed in Kurtz. Through descriptions of what he has gone through in the jungle, the reader is able to grasp and probably feel sorry for Kurtz. Through his journey, Marlow discovers that the African jungle may be terrifying, but it is not as dark as the evil we harbor inside us.
Another description of the African jungle is the dehumanization of characters, shown by the lack of names for the other characters in the book. Apart from Kurtz and Marlow, the rest are known by their titles in the book, for example, the manager, the intended and the harlequin. The author portrays Kurtz as an evil man and at the same time some mysterious person that the reader meets at the end of the book. All the information that the reader has, comes from tales by other characters in the book. At the beginning of the novella, the narrator describes the darkness around them, which is symbolic of the story he is about to tell, “Only the gloom to the west. Brooding greater than the superior reaches became more solemn every minute, as if infuriated by the loom of the sun” (Conrad 1).The readers’ expectations are already geared towards the impending dark tale of a darker place.
The conversation between the Russian and Marlow demonstrates the belief that the only civilized people that can survive the African wilderness are the “absolutely uncalculating, pure, unpractical spirit of escapade had ever ruled a person, it rules this…youth” (Conrad 17). The conversation also goes on to show that Kurtz suffered a lot, hated the situation, but just could not get him to leave.
When Marlow spoke to Kurtz before taking him back to the steam boat, he was of a sane mind, but a mad soul. The author tries to show that Kurtz was deeply tormented by all the things he had done. It shows that he was not completely insane, and had a conscience. Conrad also depicts Kurtz as being hollow, and only the jungle could fill that hollow, as said by Marlow when he discovered skulls on spikes. At this point, he is convinced that Kurtz became a savage just like the natives that worshiped him.
It is not right to blame all that happened to Kurtz on the African wilderness. This is because the darkness in this man was already there it just needed the right catalyst to come to the surface. Kurtz, becoming like the natives, served the company’s interest at best, the other white people in the company pretending to be offended by his behavior is hypocritical. The only difference between what the company and Kurtz did is that he did not care what people thought about him while the company did.