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The Heart of Darkness is a novel that author Joseph Conrad wrote about the meaning of his Heart of Darkness has double meaning in its title. The dictionary meaning is that the title refers to a place in Africa called Congo. There is also another hidden meaning, the title stands for the darkness or the primitiveness that every person possesses in his or her mind and heart or sees true intentions. “Joseph Conrad was born Dec 3, 1857 in Berdichev, Ukraine and passed away in UK August 3, 1924 “.(Bio)  He is son of Apollo and Evelina Korzeniowski. “His parents were also Polish patriots who came up with a plan to fight against the oppressive Russian rule.” (Bio) Their attempt failed and as far as a punishment for their actions, they were arrested and sent to live in the Russian province of Vologda with everything they had their 4-year-old son. When his parents passed away he was then raised by his uncle in Poland. His education was what some would call erratic, and unpredictable when he was growing up.  He attended a school in Krakow. He then received further private schooling. When he was about 16 years old, Conrad left the land of Poland and then traveled to the port city of Marseilles, France, where he began his years as a mariner where he joined the French Merchant Marine and briefly employed himself as a wartime gunrunner.


He was introduced to a merchant who was a friend of his uncle. This would turn out to be what inspired him to become a writer through his experiences. He then sailed on several French commercial ships, one of his first was as an apprentice and then as a steward. He traveled to the West Indies and South America. He went through a mini midlife crisis where he was in debt and tried to commit suicide. Conrad joined the British merchant marine, where he was employed for 16 years being promoted and became a British citizen. His duties took him to India, Singapore, Australia and Africa which gave him experiences that he would later reinterpret in his book. The French Merchant marine is the Merchant marine may be defined as all ships engaged in the carriage of goods; or all commercial vessels, which excludes tugs, fishing vessels, offshore oil rigs, etc. This entry contains information in four fields total, ships by type, foreign-owned, and registered in other countries. He then began to work aboard British ships, learning English from his shipmates. He was made a Master Mariner, and served more than sixteen years before an event inspired him to expand his talents and try to write. He was then hired to take a steamship into Africa, and according to Conrad himself, the experience of seeing firsthand the horrors of colonial rule had left him a changed man. Meaning don’t take what you have for granted when you think you have a better life. He then moved into England in 1894, a year before he would write his first book. His deep desire interested in a decent number of writers both who were French and English whose work he studied carefully. This became useful when, because he needed to come to terms with himself about his experience which lead him to write Heart of Darkness, in 1899, which was followed by other fictionalized explorations of his life. He has been applauded as one of the most powerful, insightful, and disturbing novelists in the English canon despite coming to English later in life, which allowed him to combine it with the sensibilities of French, Russian, and Polish literature.

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The Heart of Darkness is what some would call a “story of a man’s symbolic journey into his own inner being. A profusion of vivid details that are significant on both literal and symbolic levels contributes to the ambiguity of Conrad’s narrative and has led to conflicting interpretations of its meaning.”  takes place in the Congo of Africa where the main character Marlow who is from Europe was sent on a journey across the Congo river. Marlow is very fond of Kurtz who is a very successful trader and Marlow is there to relieve him of his post so that he can take over. Marlow’s experience in Africa inspires him to change because of the nature of colonialism, which culminates when he discovers that Kurtz is not who he was thought out to be. He has been a degenerate who wanted power to rule the African natives. Marlow goes to confront not only Kurtz’s corruption but also those inner demons within himself that are devilish temptations that affected Kurtz. When Marlow finally meets Kurtz, he is basically on the brink of death due to disease. After Kurtz’s passing, Marlow returns back to Belgium where he is then visited by Kurtz’s fiancée. Marlow then says that before he died he was saying her name. I see this as his way of keeping his wife at heel knowing that her husband wasn’t a monster and that before he passed he was longing for her. Many have think that Marlow’s motives behind this last deception is that Marlow wants to keep his own way of how he envisioned Kurtz and the lie as a compassionate act that functions to contrast Marlow’s humanity with Kurtz’s inhumanity because Marlow has a heart and his feelings/emotions were stronger than Kurtz’s because he showed pity or what some would say mercy.


A couple of the main themes of this book is off personal experiences that the author himself encountered sometime in his life time. In 1890, after more than a decade as a seaman, Conrad requested the command of a Belgian steamer sailing for Africa. He had a diary that he kept during the journey that provided evidence that many of the characters, incidents, and impressions recalled in Heart of Darkness have strong cases that they occurred in real life. The way Conrad used the African environment in the novel, the portraits of the greed, destruction, and psychological regression that was foretold. The correlation between Conrad to his character Marlow has been him in the story. Marlow has been perceived as the spokesman for Conrad, a complex and separate creation, and as a combination of both. The differences between Marlow and Kurtz is considered the most crucial relationship between characters in the story. Some think that Kurtz’s death and Marlow’s lie to Kurtz’s fiancée as seminal scenes in which the scenes have been subject to a wide range of critical interpretations. Whether it shows their character or whether they’re true intentions.


Conrad’s use of imagery, is astonishing the way he paints the picture of the events in the novel. They pop out at you like it was a pop up book which manages to evoke a sinister atmosphere. The clear picture he paints relies heavily depends upon contrasting patterns of light and dark, contributes most appreciably to the consistently ambiguous tone of the work. According to novelguide “As any child knows, darkness symbolizes the unknown; it gains its power from its ability to conceal things we are too frightened to face.  Several times in the novel we see characters afraid, not of the darkness itself, but of that which potentially lies within it.  One of the most alarming scenes occurs when the men aboard the fog-bound steamer hear a shrill cry from somewhere around them.  It is particularly frightening because the men know some potential threat is near, but they cannot see it; it is simply out there in the darkness, waiting.”(novel)


To demonstrate the moral uncertainty of this world and of life in general, Conrad consistently alters common symbolic conceptions of light and dark. The good or evil, theme was very evident in the book when Marlow lies to Kurtz wife about his final words to keep the feeling of her knowing he thought of her before he died. This showed a good heart, but then when Kurtz was ruling over the Congo it showed fear, power and evil. On shmoop they said “Marlow’s desire to be good and do good becomes increasingly futile as he’s 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—or between the River Thames and the Congo, or between black and white—until finally we’re left wondering if there’s really any difference at all.”(Shmoop). Even though there was a change in heart and character Marlow struggled to keep his humanity.

Lastly fate and free will was the most important because of the curiosity of the characters and free will. Some it seems to be there fate to just be who they were but on the other hand they were who they always were. According to shmoop “Marlow’s journey toward the interior and toward Kurtz seems inevitable, as if Marlow is drawn nearer and nearer to the heart of darkness by his own morbid curiosity and by his childhood drive to explore. Indeed, the two women knitting in Brussels represent the Fates of ancient Greek mythology. With their appearance, Marlow begins to feel as if his journey is ill-starred – yet he forges on anyway. The interplay between fate and free will informs the action of the plot, calling into question whether Marlow could have avoided his descent into madness, his corruption, and his subsequent revelations about human nature.” (Shmoop)

In conclusion, he wanted to meet the man he was idolizing since he got the chance to go to his duties. Marlow cannot help himself but to meet Kurtz. Shmoop said it best with these agreement starters and I believe these is what could have been the thing that kicked started it all “He is destined to go into the interior, experience it much as Kurtz did, and eventually meet the man himself. If we accept Kurtz as Marlow’s foil, this means that Kurtz was fated to go mad in the interior and couldn’t stop it by any conscious decision. Marlow’s meeting and renunciation of Kurtz is a result of personal choice; in other words, he could have glorified Kurtz as the others did, but he made the choice not to.” (Shmoop) We discussed the theme, background info and the plot of the story. 


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