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Heart of Darkness


Heart of Darkness An Brief Look at Conrad s Life and Works, Themes and Motifs in Heart of Darkness, and Apocalypse Now Joseph Conrad Joseph Conrad s Other Works ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness
  • An Brief Look at Conrads Life and Works, Themes
    and Motifs in Heart of Darkness, and Apocalypse

Joseph Conrad
Born 1857 in Russian-occupied Poland Patriot
father family exiled in Russia 1862 Both
parents dead of illness by 1869 Conservative
uncle took him in
  • Joined French Merchant Marine at the age of 16
  • Kicked out due to his nationality a suicide
  • Joined British Merchant Marine 1878
  • Left the sea began writing 1894
  • Died 1924 buried in Canterbury

Joseph Conrads Other Works
  • Amayers Folly (1895)
  • Lord Jim (1900)
  • Heart of Darkness (1902)
  • Nostromo (1904)
  • Under Western Eyes (1910)
  • Chance (1914)

Heart of Darkness Background
  • After a long stint in the east had come to an
    end, he was having trouble finding a new
  • With the help of a relative in Brussels he got
    the position as captain of a steamer for a
    Belgian trading company.
  • Conrad had always dreamed of sailing the Congo
  • Had to leave early for the job because the
    previous captain was killed in a trivial quarrel

One interpretation of the title A literal
journey into the Dark Continent, (the Heart of
Darkness) as Africa was viewed by Conrads
Africa and Imperialism
Congo in the 1890s
Inner Station
Heart of Darkness Background
  • While traveling from Boma (at the mouth) to the
    company station at Matadi he met Roger Casement
    who told Conrad stories of the harsh treatment of
  • 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 scrabble 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.
  • He found his ship was damaged.
  • Dysentery was rampant as was malaria Conrad had
    to terminate his contract due to illness and
    never fully recovered

Heart of Darkness Conrads most widely read
novel It can be read. . .
  • As Autobiography The account of a journey up the
    Congo river that Conrad undertook in the early
  • As Anti-colonialist/imperialist An exposition of
    the brutality of Belgian colonial rule. (See King
    Leopolds Ghost)
  • As an Arthurian Quest.
  • As Classical or Norse Mythology.
  • As Christian Mythology (Dante)
  • As Psychoanalysis A Journey into the Self

  • Conrad did, in fact, go up the Congo River in
  • Like Marlow in the novel, he got the job to go
    to the Congo through his aunt.
  • Like Marlow, he did not get along with the
  • Like Marlow, he was sent to pick up an agent
    (named Klein)
  • Like Marlow, he fell ill and nearly died

Conrads own words about colonialism
  • The conquest of the earth, which mostly means
    the taking it away from those who have a
    different complexion or slightly flatter noses
    than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you
    look into it too much.
  • A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all
    like the whiff from some corpse.
  • In an essay Conrad calls the colonial
    exploitation of the Congo the vilest scramble
    for loot that ever disfigured the history of
    human conscience

  • In the King Arthur myths a knight in shining
    amour goes on a quest, typically a quest for the
    holy grail.
  • The quest usually involves a number of trials.
    Some of those are physical, but the toughest
    tests are usually spiritual, a test of moral
    fibre or personal integrity.
  • The trials do not necessarily lead to wealth and
    fame, but equally often to insight and humility.

Arthurian Quest
Classical and Norse Mythology
References to Greek and Norse Mythology and to
the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid The women
in the Brussels office the three Fates The
Sepulchral City Descent into the underworld of
Odysseus and Aeneas The river Styx and Lethe
(Rivers in the underworld) The dying negroes The
lifeless shadows in the underworld The journey
itself the journeys of Odysseus and Aeneas
Christian Mythology
The novel has repeatedly been compared to
Dantes Divine Comedy. Dante also undertakes a
journey to the underworld, to the Christian
Hell. Other parallels The river snake
temptation The dying negroes souls in limbo The
Inner Station the inner sanctum of Hell and
Dante (1265-1321) with his Divinia Commedia
More than 20 years before Freud published his
tripartite division of the mind into Superego,
Ego and Id, Conrad seems to use similar ideas.
The part of the mind that represses and controls
impulses (Governance/Policing A civilizing
effect) The part of the mind that controls but
focuses impulses (Self-Expression/ Striving A
pioneering spirit) The instinctual,
pleasure-seeking part of the mind (Can be
degenerate, amoral, disturbing) But the
wilderness had found him out early and the
whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating
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 Lord Jim
  • Three main characters
  • The unnamed narrator
  • Marlow
  • Kurtz
  • Also three stations, three interruptions to the
    narrative, etc.
  • Marlow recounts his tale while he is on a small
    vessel on the Thames in London with some drinking
    buddies who are ex-merchant seamen.

A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to
sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above
Gravesend, and farther back still seemed
condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding
motionless over the biggest, and the greatest,
town on earth.
Varied Interpretations
  • Many different interpretations have been seen in
    this book
  • Some see it as an attack on colonialism and a
    criticism of racial exploitation
  • Some see Kurtz as the embodiment of all the evil
    and horror of which humans are capable.
  • Others view it as a portrayal of one mans
    journey into the primitive unconscious where the
    only means of escaping the blandness of everyday
    life is by self degradation.

Heart of Darkness Themes Motifs
  • Darkness and Light
  • Primitive vs. Civilized
  • Good vs. Evil (but look also for reversals of
  • Lies/Hypocrisy (Marlow chooses Kurtzs evil
    versus the companys hypocrisy)
  • Imperialism/Colonization Cruelty, greed,
    exploitation in the guise of civilizing the
    natives (nb. Eliots The Hollow Men)

Heart of Darkness Themes Motifs
  • Role of Women
  • Three female figures (Marlowes aunt, Kurtzs
    African mistress, the Intended)
  • Each embodies a distinct role
  • Physical connected to Psychological Barriers
    (fog, thick forest, darkness, obscurity)
  • Rivers (connection to the past, parallels time
    and the journey)

(No Transcript)
Review of Criticism
  • Paul OPrey "It is an irony that the 'failures'
    of Marlow and Kurtz are paralleled by a
    corresponding failure of Conrad's
    technique--brilliant though it is--as the vast
    abstract darkness he imagines exceeds his
    capacity to analyze and dramatize it, and the
    very inability to portray the story's central
    subject, the 'unimaginable', the 'impenetratable'
    (evil, emptiness, mystery or whatever) becomes a
    central theme."
  • James Guetti complains that Marlow "never gets
    below the surface," and is "denied the final
    self-knowledge that Kurtz had."

Review of Criticism
  • Conrad, writing in 1922, responds to similar
    criticism "Explicitness, my dear fellow, is
    fatal to the glamour of all artistic work,
    robbing it of all suggestiveness, destroying all
    illusion. You seem to believe in literalness and
    explicitness, in facts and in expression. Yet
    nothing is more clear than the utter
    insignificance of explicit statement and also its
    power to call attention away from things that
    matter in the region of art."
  • Marlowe, the narrator, describes how difficult
    conveying a story is "Do you see the story? Do
    you see anything? 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 the very essence of
    dream . . .No, it is impossible it is impossible
    to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch
    of one's existence--that which makes its truth,
    its meaning-- its subtle and penetrating essence.
    It is impossible. We live, as we dream--alone . .

Review of Criticism
  • Marxist You can see Heart of Darkness as a
    depiction of, and an attack upon, colonialism in
    general, and, more specifically, the particularly
    brutal form colonialism took in the Belgian
  • the mistreatment of the Africans
  • the greed of the so-called "pilgrims"
  • the broken idealism of Kurtz
  • the French man-of-war lobbing shells into the
  • the grove of death which Marlow stumbles upon
  • the little note that Kurtz appends to his
    noble-minded essay on The Suppression of Savage
  • the importance of ivory to the economics of the

Review of Criticism
  • Sociological/Cultural Conrad was also apparently
    interested in a more general sociological
    investigation of those who conquer and those who
    are conquered, and the complicated interplay
    between them.
  • Marlow's invocation of the Roman conquest of
  • cultural ambiguity of those Africans who have
    taken on some of the ways of their Europeans
  • the ways in which the wilderness tends to strip
    away the civility of the Europeans and brutalize
  • Conrad is not impartial and scientifically
    detached from these things, and he even has a bit
    of fun with such impartiality in his depiction
    the doctor who tells Marlow that people who go
    out to Africa become "scientifically

Review of Criticism
  • Psychological/Psychoanalytical Conrad goes out
    of his way to suggest that in some sense Marlow's
    journey is like a dream or a return to our
    primitive past--an exploration of the dark
    recesses of the human mind.
  • Apparent similarities to the psychological
    theories of Sigmund Freud in its suggestion that
    dreams are a clue to hidden areas of the mind
  • we are all primitive brutes and savages, capable
    of the most appalling wishes and the most
    horrifying impulses (the Id)
  • we can make sense of the urge Marlow feels to
    leave his boat and join the natives for a savage
    whoop and holler
  • notice that Marlow keeps insisting that Kurtz is
    a voice--a voice who seems to speak to him out of
    the heart of the immense darkness

Review of Criticism
  • Religious Heart of Darkness as an examination of
    various aspects of religion and religious
  • examine the way Conrad plays with the concept of
    pilgrims and pilgrimages
  • the role of Christian missionary concepts in the
    justifications of the colonialists
  • the dark way in which Kurtz fulfills his own
    messianic ambitions by setting himself up as one
    of the local gods

Review of Criticism
  • Moral-Philosophical Heart of Darkness is
    preoccupied with general questions about the
    nature of good and evil, or civilization and
  • What saves Marlow from becoming evil?
  • Is Kurtz more or less evil than the pilgrims?
  • Why does Marlow associate lies with mortality?

Review of Criticism
  • Formalist
  • Threes There are three parts to the story, three
    breaks in the story (1 in pt. 1 and 2 in pt. 2),
    and three central characters the outside
    narrator, Marlow and Kurtz
  • Contrasting images (dark and light, open and
  • Center to periphery Kurtz-gtMarlow-gtOutside
    Narrator-gtthe reader
  • Are the answers to be found in the center or on
    the periphery?

  • 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.

Apocalypse Now
  • Apocalypse Now is a film that was directed by
    Francis Ford Coppola starring Martin Sheen,
    Robert Duvall and Marlon Brando
  • This film was based on Conrads Heart of
  • Coppola takes the story to Vietnam. Captain
    Willard (Marlow) is sent on a mission to kill
    Colonel Kurtz who has gone renegade
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