Heart of Darkness Study Guide

Heart of Darkness Study Guide

Original title:
Heart of Darkness
October 1st 2003 by Green Integer (first published 1899)
Africa, Belgian Congo, Brussels (Belgium), Congo Free State
ISBN 1892295490 (ISBN13: 9781892295491)

Joseph Conrad is a perfectly suitable candidate to write about heroism and government relations with its subjects. Born in Ukraine to a polish nobleman, he experienced all kinds of state influence on his destiny: his father was sent to Siberia by the Russian government for treason, under the influence of French and English novel he fell in love with the sailor profession and had to make it through three countries until getting a captain assignment.

The biggest impression on his physical and mental condition was made when travelling to African country Congo – the “dark place” of the world, at that time a colony of Belgium colonial empire. Later he would write “Heart of Darkness”, one of the first texts that can be considered a book of reference of European colonization process.

A protagonist named Marlow accepts a job with a Belgian sailor company to lead a ship up the Congo River. He is tasked to find another Company employee – Kurtz, who is picking up ivory in the tropical jungle. Kurtz has spent a lot of time with the hostile natives, which caused abnormal alterations of his mind. That’s the price you have to pay: when taming the wild, one becomes even wilder. 

The reader finds himself in the environment where surviving is the main concern. Notions of home, dignity and common sense are secondary here. Surrounded by the deep thick jungle together with a crew of cannibals on board, it is difficult for Europeans to admire the view. Instead, all they think about are the dangers hiding behind each river turn.

Imperialism is everywhere in the text: from the background of the plot to the thoughts and actions of the characters.  When the system allows its subjects to possess power over other humans, the system becomes inevitably corrupt. It is at this point that the old order is falling apart in the distant European empires and things get out of control. Marlow personally experiences the inefficiency and atrocity of the Empire institutions in the far away places.

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