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Heart of Darkness


In adulthood Conrad became a British merchant sailor and eventually a ... 'He allowed this 'boy'- an overfed young negro from the coast- to treat the white ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness
  • by Joseph Conrad

  • The Heart of Darkness is a dreadful and
    fascinating tale, full as any of Poes mystery
    and haunting terrors, yet with all the
    substantial basis of reality that no man who had
    no lived as well as dreamed could conjure into
  • --from a review in
  • Nation, 1906

What is the book about anyway?
  • seafaring
  • river boating
  • trade and exploration
  • imperialism and colonialism
  • race relations
  • the attempt to find meaning in the universe while
    trying to get at the mysteries of the
    subconscious mind

Conrads Biography
  • In adulthood Conrad became a British merchant
    sailor and eventually a master mariner in 1886.
  • He traveled widely in the east.
  • He took on a stint as a steamer captain (1890) in
    the Congo, but became ill within three months and
    had to leave.
  • After his illness, Conrad retired from sailing
    and took up writing full time.
  • Writing took a physical and emotional toll on
    Conrad. He considered his writing experiences

Background- rewind a bit
  • After his long stint in the east had come to an
    end, Conrad was having trouble finding a new
  • With the help of a relative in Brussels, he
    attained his new position as captain of a steamer
    for a Belgian trading company.
  • Conrad had always dreamed of sailing the Congo in
  • He had to leave almost immediately for the job
    the previous captain was killed in a trivial

Background continued
  • While traveling from Boma (at the mouthof the
    river) to the company station at Matadi, he met
    Roger Casement who told Conrad stories of the
    harsh treatment of Africans in the colonies.
  • Conrad saw some of the most shocking and depraved
    examples of human corruption hed ever witnessed.
    He was disgusted by the ill treatment of the
    natives, the scramble for loot, the terrible heat
    and the lack of water.
  • He saw human skeletons of bodies left to rot -
    many were bodies of men from the chain gangs
    building the railroads.
  • At one point, he went back and found his ship was
    damaged and had to be repaired.
  • Dysentery was rampant as was malaria Conrad had
    to terminate his contract due to illness and
    never fully recovered.

Frame Story
  • The novella opens with a frame story in which the
    unnamed narrator and four companions aboard the a
    ship named the Nellie are sailing the Thames
    River. To pass the time, one of the men, Charlie
    Marlow, describes his experiences as a steamboat
    captain for a European trading company with
    outposts in Africa. Our anonymous narrator
    occasionally intrudes on Marlows narrative and
    comments on it.

  • Anonymous narrator aboard the Nellie, a former
    seaman with a sense of humor
  • Marlow-a seaman who piloted a steamboat for a
    large Belgian trading company
  • General Manager-the chief of the companys
    Central Station who seeks to replace Kurtz
  • Russian-a boyish seaman who idolizes Kurtz
  • Kurtz-the characteristic chief of the companys
    inner station

Narrative Structure
  • Framed Narrative
  • Narrator begins
  • Marlow takes over
  • Narrator breaks in occasionally
  • Marlow is Conrads alter-ego he shows up in some
    of Conrads other works including Youth A
    Narrative and Lord Jim
  • Marlow recounts his tale while he is on a small
    vessel on the Thames with some drinking buddies
    who are ex-merchant seamen. As he recounts his
    story, the group sits in an all-encompassing
    darkness and passes around the bottle.

Varied Interpretations
  • Many different interpretations have been
    suggested for this text- You will have to
    develop your own!
  • What is Conrad saying about colonialism and
    capitalism as a whole?
  • What might Kurtz symbolize?
  • What is this really a journey into?
  • How could this be an escape?

Conflicts, Themes, Symbols, Motifs
  • Light vs. Dark
  • Civilization vs. Savagery
  • Racism
  • Search for Identity
  • Effects of Imperialism
  • Hypocrisy of Imperialism
  • Individual Responsibility

Modernism Heart of Darkness
  • Heart of Darkness was published in the late
    Victorian-Early Modern Era but exhibits mostly
    Modern traits
  • a distrust of abstractions as a way of
    delineating truth
  • an interest in an exploration of the
  • a belief in art as a separate and somewhat
    privileged kind of human experience
  • a desire for transcendence mingled with a feeling
    that transcendence cannot be achieved
  • an awareness of primitiveness and savagery as the
    condition upon which civilization is built, and
    therefore an interest in the experience and
    expressions of non-European peoples
  • a skepticism that emerges from the notion that
    human ideas about the world seldom fit the
    complexity of the world itself, and thus a sense
    that multiplicity, ambiguity, and irony--in life
    and in art--are the necessary responses of the
    intelligent mind to the human condition

Conrads Use of Diction
  • Very Descriptive words
  • Trees, trees, millions of trees, massive,
    immense, running up high and in their foot,
    hugging the bank against the stream, crept the
    little begrimed steamboat, like a sluggish beetle
    crawling on the floor of a lofty portico.
  • Oh, yes! Get ready for some serious imagery!
  • Uses synonyms for dark for emphasis
  • All this was in the gloom, while we down there
    were yet in the sunshine, and the stretch of the
    river abreast of the clearing glittered in a
    still and dazzling splendor, with a murky and
    overshadowed bend above and below.
  • Vivid sound imagery
  • It is the gift of the great, she went on, and
    the sound of her low voice seemed to have the
    accompaniment of all the other sounds, full of
    mystery, desolation, and sorrow, I had ever
    heard- the ripple of the river, the soughing of
    the trees swayed by the wind, the murmurs of wild
    crowds, the faint ring of incomprehensible words
    cried form afar, the whisper of a voice speaking
    from beyond the threshold of an eternal

Diction continued
  • Uses anaphora, which is emphasizing words by
    repeating them at the beginning of neighboring
    clauses, to help build tension.
  • I looked around, and I dont know why, but I
    assure you that never, never before, did this
    land, this river, this jungle, the very arch of
    this blazing sky, appear to me so hopeless and so
    dark, so impenetrable to human thought, so
    pitiless to human weakness.
  • Very patronizing
  • While describing a black man Marlow says The man
    seemed young- almost a boy- but you know with
    them its hard to tell. About his crew he says
    They wandered here and there with their absurd
    long staves in their hands, like a lot of
    faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten

Diction continued
  • Negative connotations
  • Droll thing life is- that mysterious arrangement
    of merciless logic for a futile purpose.
  • Conversational choice of words and punctuation
  • He forgot I hadnt heard any of these splendid
    monologues on, what was it? on love, justice,
    conduct of like- or what not.

  • Dashes
  • Used frequently
  • Help put a greater emphasis on his point
  • We live, as we dream- alone.
  • Used as appositives
  • He allowed this boy- an overfed young negro
    from the coast- to treat the white men, under his
    very eyes, with provoking insolence.
  • Used for a conversational effect
  • But this must have been before his- let us say-
    nerves went wrong, and caused him to preside at
    certain midnight dances ending with unspeakable
    rites, which- as far as I reluctantly gathered
    from what I heard at various times- were offered
    up to him- do you understand?- to Mr Kurtz

  • Exclamation Points
  • Used for the basic use of emphasis.
  • But it was a victory!
  • Sometimes followed by a word that is not
    capitalized, simply for the conversational aspect
    to come across.
  • I said Hang!- and let things slide.
  • Ellipses
  • Shows Marlows thoughts trailing off.
  • The danger, if any, I expounded, was from out
    proximity to a great human passion let loose.
    Even extreme grief may ultimately vent itself in
    violence- but more generally takes the form of
  • Leaves certain ideas and thoughts hanging for his
    listeners to think about for themselves.
  • It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream-
    making a vain attempt, because no relation of a
    dream can convey the dream-sensation, that
    commingling of absurdity, surprise, and
    bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt,
    that notion of being captured by the incredible
    which is of the very essence of dreams.
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