Of Darkness Essay
Joseph Conrad\'s novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of
imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his
struggle. Marlow\'s catharsis in the novel, as he goes to the Congo, rests on how
he visualizes the effects of imperialism. This paper will analyze Marlow\'s
"change," as caused by his exposure to the imperialistic nature of the
historical period in which he lived. Marlow is asked by the organization for
which he works, to travel to the Congo River and report back to them about Mr.

Kurtz, a top-notch officer of theirs. When he sets sail, he doesn\'t know what to
expect, but by the end of his journey Marlow will have changed forever. Heart of

Darkness is the story of a man\'s journey through the African Congo and the
"enlightenment" of his soul. It begins with Charlie Marlow, along with
a few of his comrades, cruising aboard the Nellie, a traditional sailboat. On
the boat, Marlow begins to tell of his experiences in the Congo. Conrad uses

Marlow to reveal his personal thoughts and emotions during the course of this
journey. Marlow begins his voyage as an ordinary English sailor who is traveling
to the African Congo on a "business trip". He is an Englishmen through
and through, and has never been exposed to any drastically alternative forms of
culture, such as the one he will encounter in Africa. Throughout the book,

Conrad, via Marlow\'s observations, reveals to the reader the naive mentality
shared by most Europeans. Marlow as well, shares this naivete in the beginning
of his voyage, however, after his first few moments in the Congo, he realizes
the ignorance he and his comrades possess. We first recognize the general
naivete of the Europeans when Marlow\'s aunt is seeing him for the last time
before he embarks on his journey. Marlow\'s aunt is under the assumption that the
voyage is a mission to "wean those ignorant millions from their horrid
ways"(Conrad, 18-19). In reality however, the Europeans are there in the
name of imperialism, and their sole objective is to earn a substantial profit by
collecting all the ivory in Africa. Another manifestation of the Europeans
obliviousness towards reality is seen when Marlow is recanting his adventure
while aboard the Nellie. He addresses his comrades on board, saying: "When
you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents of the surface,
the reality--the reality I tell you---fades. The inner truth is hidden luckily,
luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness
watching over me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows performing
on your respective tight ropes for---what is it? Half a crown a
tumble"(Conrad, 56). Marlow is saying that while he is in the Congo,
although he has to concentrate on petty things, such as overseeing the repair of
his boat, he is still aware of what is going on around him, including the
horrible reality, which he is in the midst of. On the other hand, his friends on
the boat simply don\'t know of these realities. It is their ignorance, as well as
their innocence which provokes them to say "Try to be civil,

Marlow"(Conrad, 57). Not only are they oblivious to the reality, which

Marlow is exposed to, but their naivete is so great, they can\'t even comprehend
a place where this \'so called\' reality would even be a bad dream. Hence, their
response is clearly rebuking the words of a "savage" for having said
something so ridiculous and "uncivilized". Quite surprisingly, this
mentality does not pertain exclusively to the Englishmen in Europe. At one point
during Marlow\'s voyage down the Congo, his boat hits an enormous patch of fog.

At that very instant, a "very loud cry" is let out(Conrad, 66). After

Marlow looks around and makes sure everything is all right, he observes the
contrasts of expressions between the white and black men. "It was very curious
to see the contrast of expression of the white men and of the black fellows of
our crew, who were as much strangers to this part of the river as we, though
their homes were only eight hundred miles away. The whites, of course greatly
discomposed, had besides a curious look of being painfully shocked by such an
outrageous row. The others had an alert, naturally interested expression; but
their faces were essentially quiet"(Conrad, 67). Once again, we see the
simple-mindedness of the Europeans, even when they were exposed to
‘reality’. Their mentality is so heavily engraved in their minds that even
the environment of the Congo