Heart of Darkness is a novel addressing the issue of colonialism. The degradation of white colonists is represented through their barbaric implications towards the Blacks. Symbolism plays a major role in explicating imperialistic movements and also the exploration of the psychological mind. The darkness of the human mind is revealed by the morbid and dark imageries presented throughout the narrative. Moreover, the journey into the heart of Congo itself is a major connotation of the narrator’s experience through the impenetrable ambiguity.
The main character, Marlow, explores the ambivalence of dehumanization through the acts of colonization. Europeans who migrate to the Dark Continent in search of prosperity and wealth ally with selfishness and greed to obtain the ultimate goal.
Their greed has led them to believe their superiority among the Blacks, which result in their brutal oppression over their supposed inferiors. This is a description of the grotesque mentality of White supremacy while in the deeds of colonization.
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The White men’s illusion of control has led them to the loss of humanization. This violence is represented by the chained blacks that are "in all attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair" (1969). The oppressed are forced to work and exhaust all their energy to the advantage of the White population, in both physical and psychological extremes. Moreover, the description Marlow gives the savages precisely denotes a kind of animal instinct, rather than human characteristics. However, throughout the course of the narrative, at the same time that White men are trying to civilize the Blacks, the Blacks, in return, teach the White colonists to becoming more and more barbaric.
For example, when Marlow first encounters the Blacks withering away in chains, the restraints resemble the damage that Whites have caused among the slaves. Moreover, when Marlow sees that one of the Blacks carries a piece of fine wool around his neck, he cannot help but give the slave a biscuit from his pocket. "I found nothing else to do but to offer him one of my good Swede’s ship’s biscuits" had tied a bit of white worsted round his neck – why? Was it a badge – an ornament – a charm – a propitiatory act" (1969)? Here, it symbolizes the white man’s obligation to continue the teaching of the Black’s inferiority or becoming second class "whites". At the same time, Blacks are forced to distance themselves away from their nature and their true self in admitting the White’s culture.
On the other hand, the Whites are transformed into savages by the natives because the Blacks expose the colonists into the nature, the Whites become influenced by their surroundings; thus resulting in the assimilation of their own selves with the wilderness, bringing out their uncivilized and barbaric side within their psychological minds. The scene where the hut bursts into flames and the man attempting to cease the fire with "a tin pail in his hand, dipped about a quart of water and tore back again. I noticed there was a hole in the bottom of his pail" (1974). To cease the fire with a broken pail is as futile as the useless resistance Whites have against becoming barbaric. The only revenge they can perform is to blame one of the slaves for the deed that the darkness has done to them.
The form of violence can also be presented as an act of racism. The White men’s racism toward the inferior group allows them to show aggression in order to gain power. However, this can be explained by the vulnerability of the White men toward the natives where in order to work under such a condition, they have to differentiate themselves and gain control over the colony in the need to conceal their fear. For instance, when the people gather to extinguish the fire, "black figures strolled about listlessly, pouring water on the glow; the beaten nigger groaned somewhere. "What a row the brute makes!" said the indefatigable man. "Serve him right. Transgression, punishment, bang! Pitiless, pitiless. That’s the only way. This will prevent all conflagrations for the Future" (1976). Here, it seems as though the White men fear the power of these savages, so in order for them to keep the natives under control, they use aggression to achieve the goal. Therefore, within their own sense of racism, there implies a sense of fear and pettiness that they have towards this vast uncultivated space.
Moreover, the racism that is portrayed in this story is the way different people of different color skin act toward colonization. Blacks are represented as evil, dark, and solemn gloom. White people, on the other hand, are angelic and miraculous. When Marlow sees the accountant who is uncontaminated by the environment, he "shook hands with this miracle" (1969). The accountant has been in Africa for three years and his behavior and fashion are still favorable in Europe, which provides the evidence that he must be educated and therefore mentally sane. Here, Civility is also distinguished by color where being White denotes a person’s sanity and Black carries animal characteristics. However, no matter how close a person is to being white, the person is still identified as uncivilized by the White colonists.
However, the White man’s civility presented in the wilderness allows the whites to alienate each other from trying to steal their wealth. As a result, they’ve become more selfish and thirsty for ivory, which blinds their innocence and allows them to risk their lives in the vast emptiness. Marlow, however, doesn’t want to be involved with this type of greed. Rather, he sees it as a journey to find his true self. He says, "I don’t like work – no man does but I like what is in the work the chance to find yourself. Your own reality" (1978). While traveling up the river, he sees an untouched land which symbolizes the untracked part within the psychological mind. The forest seems impenetrable, similar to the inner chambers of the human mind. "It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect" (1982). As Marlow travels deeper and deeper into the womb of the darkness, his fear grows stronger because of the overwhelming feeling of unknowingness within himself consuming his civilized mind, stripping him of his self-awareness.
The untamed part of Marlow’s heart can be translated by the description of the forests he has encountered throughout his travel. "Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive, immense, running up high" It made you feel very small, very lost, and yet it was not altogether depressing, that feeling" (1983). He cannot associate with his inner self because it’s almost inhuman and unearthly. However, even though he resists the immense uncertainty as well as he can, he is slowly influenced by this dark immobility. As a result, he loses himself and begins to think himself as an untamed soul or a barbarian.
However, he is startled to awaken from his inner self when he finds a book with European writings. He touched the book as if it can revive him back to his original self. "The simple old sailor, with his talk of chains and purchases, made me forget the jungle and the pilgrims in a delicious sensation of having come upon something unmistakably real. Such a book being here was wonderful enough" (1985). Marlow sees the handwriting of the white language, he feels as though he is caressed by an angel to give him energy to move out of the hopelessness. Since he is already so distant away from his "White" self, seeing something so familiar reminds him of the righteousness of the White’s modern philosophy; where there is a way to work around everything instead of being consumed by it. Moreover, the dark emblems of the darkness make amends within Marlow’s mind about colonization, where the imperialistic thoughts should be prohibited because the land is so inhabited and overwhelming that White man’s intrusion is almost insignificant and useless; the nature can easily consume them and turn civilization into savagery.
Upon arrival of the inner station, the house is not lined with a fence; rather, the heads on stakes display took the place of the barrier. Marlow becomes acquainted with the owner of the book. He reminds Marlow of himself when he first begin to explore the river. "His very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and altogether bewildering. He was an insoluble problem. It was inconceivable how he existed, how he had succeeded in getting so far, how he had managed to remain – why he did not instantly disappear" (1998). Marlow and the young man both seek enlightenment and exploration. However, only the young Russian can keep his cheery spirit, while Marlow has lost a part of himself in the wilderness. Moreover, both persons are admirers of Kurtz. Here, there are three characters denoting the three outcomes for going into the darkness. The young man is the innocent mind of the colonists when they first seek wealth. Marlow represents the colonist first becoming acquainted with the inhabited land. Depending on the reaction of the person, he/she can either become like the manager, who is blinded by greed, or become like Kurtz.
Kurtz is the final stage of a White person being consumed by the nature. Throughout the story, Kurtz has always been a character of words; he is not an actual character until the end. He is praised to be the top agent for the English company because of his ability to gather the most ivory. Moreover, Kurtz is also a brilliant writer, painter, poet, orator, musician, and politician. The reason for his arrival to the Congo is the make better lives for the Africans. However, upon his arrival, he realizes the dark truth that lies ahead within the jungle, wherefore he is to make a decision of staying sane or being consumed by the darkness.
At first, Kurtz "had apparently intended to return himself, but after coming three hundred miles, had suddenly decided to go back" (1980-81). He struggles to leave himself from darkness, however, he finally gives in and crosses over in realization of the dark truth. Kurtz is a very complicated character. He steals ivory from the local tribal villages, digging lands for this material. His charms have persuaded the natives to helping him acquiring the ivory from Mother Nature. Moreover, they worship Kurtz as a God. "When next day we left at noon, the crowd, covered the slope with a mass of naked, bronzed bodiesЕthey faced the river, stamped their feet, nodded their horned heads, swayed their scarlet bodies" (2008). When Kurtz is leaving for civilization, the natives rush out from the bushes to bid him farewell. Similarly, as much as the natives love Kurtz, Kurtz believes that his stay in the wilderness is for the good of the Africans. He has a great deal of plans that will help improve the African societies, wherefore the land has to be stripped from its ivory. Nonetheless, His dark character is poisoning him. "I said to myself, "He can’t walk – he is crawling on all-fours" (2006). When Marlow finally meets with Kurtz, he is no longer human-like.
Marlow’s main purpose is to bring Kurtz back to the European Company. When he sees Kurtz, he believes Kurtz has turned almost evil. He is described as "as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory" (2002). Symbolically, ivory is the source to all evil and greed, wherefore Marlow is hinting at the sanity of Kurtz’s psychological condition. Even though Marlow has a deep desire in conversing with him, it disappears when he sees the animal characteristics within Kurtz. He is deeply persuaded that Kurtz has been absorbed into the darkness where he can only live in the wilderness to survive. However, in order to help Kurtz from becoming "utterly lost," Marlow is determined to force him onto the steamboat and back to the company (2007).
Symbolically, Kurtz is a character created by Conrad to introduce a contradiction in colonialism. Again, the character serves the purpose to prove the vulnerability of the colonists; where the Dark Continent is too impenetrable and if one attempts to penetrate such lands, his outcome will become like Kurtz. There also denotes a psychological translation of Kurtz. Being introduced the inner self, if one is to be influenced by it, he/she will not be able to leave the world of misery. Also, with fear as one of the major agents of the inner mind, it is almost too tempting to intrude within those dark chambers because adventure and fear often intertwines with each other. Even though it seems tolerable to be within that state of darkness at first, the overwhelming pressure of evilness will eventually suffocate the mind. Therefore, the personТs consciousness will disappear and becomes a puppet for the darkness.
Kurtz is an important character because he links the Whites to the Blacks, and also his traits have allowed people to realize the fear within colonization and the darkness within one’s heart. Heart of Darkness is an anti-colonialism novel which presents the power of the Dark Continent, where White colonists will not survive on his/her own. Also, the most potent imagery within the story may be Kurtz’s station, where the fence is no longer needed to contain civilization. Moreover, the surrounding itself denotes a very natural, savage environment, where even the air is saturated with barbaric implements. Despite the greed and selfishness of the White colonists, the inner chamber seems to denote a ground for new discoveries where the Blacks and Whites can join forces to achieve the ultimate goal in acquiring wealth.
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