novel assessment heart of darkness

The author uses a stark recurring contrast of light and dark imagery to describe the world that encompasses the Heart of Darkness. This contrast is quite often taken to be the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, order and chaos. Conrad, however, through his twisted and emotionally provocative descriptions, distorts and undermines this distinction, leading to the evocation of a chaotic and paradoxical atmosphere.

He utilises many motifs such as the ‘grove of death’ to help relay this feeling to the reader, and they often act as reminders of the true meaning of the novel.The cruel and chaotic atmosphere within colonial Africa can be seen as the machine that created Kurtz, the epitome of evil and corruption and perhaps the true essence of human nature. The truth behind his transformation is hidden and not quite clear. We may be led to believe that the white imperialists have essentially good intentions and are trying to help and ‘civilise’ the ‘savage’ people of Africa who they deem to be inferior.

.. Or we could consider these white colonialists to be, in fact, the corrupting force acting in Africa, coming to plunder and rob the African people of their homeland and their possessions.These contrasting themes help us understand Kurtz and what he stands for.

His development into a fundamentally tyrannical ruler seems to be a combination of many different blurred reasons. Perhaps he has been corrupted by the brutal and ‘barbaric’ people that inhabit the heart of the African content, this dark and untouched world that holds the innermost secrets and ancient evil myths of these people. He may also have arrived in Africa with corrupted values, due to the superficial society he lived in – what we call civilisation.Physically and symbolically, there is a clear-cut contrast between the civilized man and the uncivilized savages of the jungle.

This contrast has a clear link with the contrast between good and evil, but it is evident that in this comparison, the distinction is certainly not clear-cut. Who is good and who is evil? Are the uncivilized savages evil, or do they possess far greater innocence and natural goodness than the civilized Europeans? This theme is constantly recurring, and we are made to judge and make up our own mind on the matter.Conrad leaves many questions unanswered – to be fulfilled by our own sense of moral decency and correctness. The comparison between the African ‘savages’ and the British ‘civilised’ colonialists is further confused when Kurtz’ black mistress is considered.

The black mistress seems to the complete opposite to his Intended. She seemingly represented the dark and evil side of human nature while his fiancee represented the innocence of humanity. His fiancee was civilized while his black mistress was not. At the end of the novel, Marlow told Kurtz’ fiancee a lie because he wanted to preserve her innocence.

I could not tell her. It would have been too dark – too dark altogether…

“.Kurtz was “torn between his ‘European’ ambitions and his ‘African’ lusts” – or is it the other way around? That is up to us, as the reader, to decide. There is an underlying moral in this novel, what it actually represents and is trying to tell us. The ‘essential goodness of man’ as described by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau is not all that it seems.

Kurtz is the product of all that is wrong with humanity and the Heart of Darkness shows him being destroyed through his own faults.We learn that Marlow is a good man, with far more decent values than Kurtz. Presented with the choice of taking Kurtz’ place – with all the power that entails – he rejects it. This shows great strength of character.

Perhaps the moral of the story is this – ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’. 2. Discuss the way in which the most dramatic episodes in the novel achieve their effects on the reader. Conrad’s use of dramatic episodes in Heart of Darkness is such that we get a better understanding of the characters true feelings and intentions.

He does not clearly spell out these emotions – it is up to us to interpret these emotions, using our own sense of morality as judge. Much of Conrad’s writing is quite suggestive and provocative. He does not simply spell out what has transpired. The Heart of Darkness is a sort of autobiography, and Conrad has hidden the grim truth within – it is up to us to find it.

The dramatic episodes within the novel are enigmatic, much as Kurtz himself. They show a sudden release of real emotion by the author, perhaps reminiscing his own experiences and inner feelings.A very powerful episode within the novel is the horrific description of the grove of death. Conrad’s true feelings are expressed quite clearly here.

He sees the white imperialists as exploiting the poor people of Africa – ‘brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed an unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest’. The images expressed here are of a very emotional nature on Conrad’s part it seems.This place can perhaps be seen as the true intent of the white colonisation of Africa. One of the most memorable dramatic episodes in the novel is Kurtz’ death.

Conrad uses extremely descriptive and powerful language in this scene. He refers to the steamboat as a ‘splashing, thumping, fierce river-demon beating the water with its terrible tail and breathing black smoke into the air’. Kurtz’ dying words – ‘The Horror! The Horror! ‘ are extremely powerful. For us to understand their meaning we must first understand Kurtz himself.

Through his dying words, Kurtz not only grabs the attention of the natives, his soldiers, and Marlow, but he pushes Marlow’s soul towards truth. The truth is a stark realisation of what has occurred – after coming to the Congo, Kurtz became a changed man. Not solely through his own actions, but through the actions of others and his understanding the truth within a web of lies. Kurtz began as a lover of greed.

Once he was looked upon as a deity he lost all sense of moral correctness and was lost forever where there was no-one to stop him.His greed had stemmed into a loss of humanity. Kurtz knew that the jungle brought out his lack of humanity – or, perhaps, sets free his true inner feelings and brought out his true humanity. Kurtz is facing a more dramatic conflict.

He not only regrets what he has done to the jungle and what it has done to him, it seems the only real choice for him his death. He cannot go back to European society without desiring the jungle. He cannot stay in the jungle because of the pain, regret, and remorse he feels he has caused it.His confrontation of evil in his life takes place as the steamboat goes downstream, ‘out of the heart of darkness’.

The final battle between the jungle and his own humanity has been lost, and he is sent from whence he came. The dramatic episodes in the novel are the keys to unravelling the truth about Conrad’s experiences in colonial Africa – experiences which he quite obviously regrets. To appreciate them fully one must read between the lines and experience the emotion that Conrad himself would have felt as he wrote them.

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