Themes

The Power of Words-

Constantly throughout the novella, the power of words is apparent. Kurtz acts as a symbol throughout the first two sections of the book. Only the stories of Kurtz are important, and Marlow becomes obsessed with the idea of hearing Kurtz. Also throughout the novella, the storyline is framed as a story within a story. The words of Marlowe first goes through the unnamed narrator, who s transfixed by the storytelling. The power of words also helps to support Kurtz’s control of the natives; he acts as a god to them and is even admired to the point of worship by the Harlequin Russian.

The Hypocrisy of Imperialism-

Though the Pilgrims constantly refer to their gain of ivory as “trade” and their suppression of the Africans as “civilizing”, Marlow can see that their facade hides their hypocritical violence. The Pilgrims call their activities “colonialism”; however, it is closer t Imperialism. Kurtz, however, is the complete opposite. He is blatantly obvious in his violence and brutality towards the natives. The question then becomes whether or not hypocrisy is worse than blatant violence. While Kurtz represented the darkness and evil of humanity, he was merely representation of the company’s true intentions. However, his honesty leads to his downfall, as the company worries that his tactics will expose their evil. The fact that the Pilgrims constantly perform work with no results and with seemingly no purpose only enhances the hypocrisy of their system. At the very least, Kurtz is the most efficient of the people.

The Hollowness of Civilization- 

Heart of Darkness  portrays  a  European  civilization  that  is hopelessly and blindly corrupt. The novella depicts European society as hollow at the core: Marlow describes the white men he meets in Africa, from the General Manager to Kurtz, as empty, and refers to the unnamed European city as the “sepulchral city” (a sepulcher is a hollow tomb). The General Manager’s concern for Kurtz is obviously faked. He has to try to save the sick Kurtz because it would look bad if he didn’t, but as long as he has an excuse (the sunken steamship) to avoid helping Kurtz, he’ll take it. The Brickmaker has a job he never does: the essence of hollowness, hypocrisy, and inefficiency. Throughout the novella, Marlow argues that what Europeans call “civilization” is superficial, a mask created by fear of the law and public shame that hides a dark heart, just as a beautiful white sepulcher hides the decaying dead inside. Marlow, and Heart of Darkness, argue that in the African jungle—“utter solitude without a policeman”—the civilized man is plunged into a world without superficial restrictions, and the mad desire for power comes to dominate him. Inner strength could allow a man to push off the temptation to dominate, but civilization actually saps this inner strength by making men think it’s unnecessary. The civilized man believes he’s civilized through and through.

Good vs Evil – Light vs Dark

Much of Heart of Darkness is concerned with Marlow’s struggle to maintain his sense of morality as power conspiracies rage all around him and the mysterious figure of Kurtz attracts his curiosity. Marlow’s desire to do good grows increasingly futile as he is plunged into a world where no absolute goodness exists and the best he can do is choose between a selection of nightmares. Eventually, we see that the characters become unable to distinguish between good and evil. Conrad illustrates this moral ambiguity with light and darkness imagery that often blends together.

Absurdity of Evil

This novella portrays the absurdity of evil through many characters and occurrences. The most profound comes from the ironic encounter with the pilgrims and the savages on the way to Kurtz’s station. Marlow notices that the savages actually behaved more civilized than the pilgrims did, since they decided to throw the dead body overboard while the savages distressed a proper burial. Through the use of this theme the novella displays the idea that there is only one choice between the lesser of two evils. The idealistic Marlow is forced to align himself with either the hypocritical colonial bureaucracy or the wild Kurtz, it becomes increasingly clear that to try to judge either alternative is an act of foolishness. The number of ridiculous situations Marlow witnesses act as reflections of the larger issue: at one station, for instance, he sees a man trying to carry water in a bucket with a large hole in it. At the Outer Station, he watches native laborers blast away at a hillside with no particular goal in mind. These absurdities involve both insignificant stupidity and life-or-death issues.

-Savannah and Jaime

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