Heart of Darkness


Joseph Conrad’s
Heart Of Darkness

Marginal Comments by bunpeiris

Kurtz is near death; as he dies aboard the river boat in the journey back downstream, to which he was taken in, along with a prodigious pile of ivory, Captain Marlow hears him faintly whisper: “The horror! The horror!” That’s all about Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness. The horror, ultimate. The humanity in wilderness, in the most abject state of existence, yet still being exploited by the so called civilized: the poor being routed by the merciless rich. The poverty stricken put to chains and bondage by the depraved affluent, the savage put to the sword and fire by the civilized. Congo is rich in Ivory. And the imperialists, in their greed inland and overseas sans borders, wouldn’t desert it without hoarding all. Joseph Conrad takes us to the horror of imperialism in the darkness of Congo.

In the living heart of the novella are the sweat cold and warm, guts & butt of Marlow, Joseph Conrad‘s alter ego, who makes his way through a river in wildernerss in search of Kurtz, an ivory trader of his employer, who is suspected to have turned rogue. Kurtz‘s is already a legend in Belgiam company by virtue of the wealth in ivory secured for his company; Kurtz is rumored to has been paid homage befitting a demi-god by some tribes of savages in Congo.

The novel Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is an excellent example of a man put up in extreme circumsatances. Kurtz  is at once a lord and a prisnor, losing  his grip on civilization and amidst the savages, becoming a savage himself. With the brutal tactics of Kurtz, the ivory shipped to his principal had beome many time over the all of other traders put together. But then Kurtz would travese too far, encroch too wide, corrode too deep.

As Marlow listen to Kurz and gets closer to the dying heart of Kurtz, he realizes, following his convoluted and bungled crusade to bring about light into the darkness, [as depicted in his painting of a blindfolded woman with a torch held aloft in an almost black background] to bring civilzation to the savages, has become a mad messianic leader of the natives. He has tansformed himself demonic in savegery, a superior savage to the savages themselves.

And as we would hear from  “Harlequin,” the Russian sailor who first greets Marlow’s boat outside of Kurtz‘s outpost and raves about the brilliance and the power of the man: “intellectual prodigy… an emissary of pity and science and progress.” But then intellectual brillance could hardly be in service in the darkness. Or is the Heart of Darkness the setting that would ever cry for Light? Is it only the most refined that could be the finest savage? 

There are all kinds of sophisticated readings of Heart of Darkness. Of course, you may interpret the novella on your own: you are free.

Should we consult Chinua Achebe’s Vulture?   Written by bunpeiris

Thus the Commandant at Belsen
Camp going home for
the day with fumes of
human roast clinging
rebelliously to his hairy
nostrils will stop
at the wayside sweet-shop
and pick up a chocolate
for his tender offspring
waiting at home for Daddy’s
The vultures have an unpleasant diet but they care for each other. Achebe shows how the concentration camp [1] commandant who has burnt bodies during the day buys chocolate for his children “tender offspring” on his way home.
Adolf Hitler [1] was an admirer of Wagner’s music and saw in his operas an embodiment of his own vision of the German nation; in a 1922 speech he claimed that Wagner’s works glorified “the heroic Teutonic nature … Greatness lies in the heroic.”

Heart Of Darkness, the firsthand experience of the novelist
In 1890, Joseph Conrad, an officer aboard the Roi des Belges, sailed up the River Congo into the wilderness, the hinterland of the Congo. Congo, Sardonically renamed Congo Free State, in effect, the private fiefdom of King Leopold of Belgium. Eight years later, as the rumors of “mass deaths caused by the forced labor system instituted at Leopold’s direction” in Congo by the Belgium regime caught fire, ran amock across the breadth and length of Europe, Joseph Conrad, the peerless twentieth century novelist, put his heart to his darkest novel.
As historian Adam Hochschild has pointed out in King Leopold’s Ghost, about the king’s rape of the Congo, Joseph Conrad himself was quite clear that it was based on specific events he had witnessed, saying it was “experience… pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case”.
Despite Conrad’s protestations, the novella “Heart Of Darkness” would always be held as tangible evidence in the form of a historical document by a man in the scene, location and in time and around the time. Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness is no less than a window into the horrific human consequences of the imperial powers’ scramble for Africa as much as it is a compelling tale.

Heart of Darkness the perilous steamboat journey


The Time Stands Still in Congo, but not for Marlow: Marlow’s steamboat pushes the narrative further down Congo river

The mysterious realm of exuberant nature plays an important part on captain Charles Marlow’s journey. Marlow is confronted with manifold voices, strange and unsettling noises, thick fog, smoke, subtle vibrations in the air; ephemeral, but insisting forces penetrating every cell. The border between his rational mind and the invasive spirit of the vast unknown territories begins to overlap; Marlow gets into a pensive-synaesthesic way of listening to the beautiful, but hostile environment.” John L. Knight, Associate Professor, Modern Middle East History, Eastern Michigan University

Congo River Basin

Congo River Basin

“When I was a little chap I had a passion for the blank spaces on the map. And there was one, the most blank of all that I had a hankering after. True, by the end of my boyhood it was no longer a blank. It was a place of darkness. Yet like a giant snake, ensnaring me with its phallic symbolism, this mighty river drew me in and I got appointed as a steamboat skipper.” Marlow

Heart of Darkness, the Belgian genocide in Congo
Heart of Darkness is the most unsettling condemnation of imperialism that has ever been written. Heart of Darkness lives nestled well in the very heart of the Western Literary Cannon. Heart of Darknessprobably the most reprinted and studied short novel of the 20th century, with its psychological and moral truths have largely overshadowed the literal truth behind the story.
In King Leopold’s Ghost (1998), the best selling popular history book by Adam Hochschild concludes that roughly 10 million perished, though the precise number can never be known. Hochschild finds four likely models for Kurtz: men who, like Kurtz, boasted of cutting off the heads of African rebels and sometimes displaying them.

The Era of Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad [1857- 1924]   Heart of Darkness [ 1902]


Intellectual Cultural


1837-1901: Reign of Queen Victoria 1809-1902:
Charles Darwin
1879-1955: Albert Einstein 1866:LittleDorrit byDickensMadam Bovary by FlaubertCrime & Punishment by Dostovesky
1857: Indian Mutiny  [1818-1883]
Karl Marx
1899 -1902: Boer War [1856-1939]
Sigmund Freud
1876:International African Association by King Leopold 11 of Belgium 1869: War and Peace by Tolstoy
Heart of Darkness

Congo River Basin

Heartof Darknes: Character map for your liteary studies
Reproduced by courtesy of Spark Notes


Heart of Darkness: video game
We still are fascinated with this idea, the idea of an outsider becoming something powerful in a non-native setting.  Even as recently as 2012, people have been making popular culture references to this novel. Far Cry 3 is a game based on a fictitious tale of a group of college age kids who get trapped on a pirate infested island. The protagonist must join forces with the native peoples to destroy the pirate organization which killed his brother and tortured his friends. The player is given the option of staying on the island at the end of the game, after which you must kill your friends to “release you from your past”. Throughout the game, you become more powerful and the native people worship you. The parallels to Kurtz’s journey to becoming a king of the native tribes are unmistakable. I feel that humanity will always want to root for the fish out of water, wanting him to become more powerful and to overcome his enemies in a justified blood bath.


Heart of Darkness Movie adaptation
It is tempting to see Heart of Darkness as a masterfully constructed parable on the darker side of the human nature. Francis Ford Coppola too wouldn’t see it in any other perspective. In his Apolcypse Now, the movie adaptation of Heart of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola located the darkness in Cambodia; journey was trasposed from the river boat in Congo to a U.S. Navy patrol boat in Cambodia.

“Mind,” he began again, lifting one arm from the elbow, the palm of the hand outwards, so that, with his legs folded before him, he had the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower—“Mind, none of us would feel exactly like this. What saves us is efficiency—the devotion to efficiency. But these chaps were not much account, really. They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force—nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind—as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. 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. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea—something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to….”

Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad, a pole by birth, by the age of 12,  lost both of his parents. Adopted by his uncle, a strict diciplinarian, at the  age of 17, Joseph Conrad left home in Poland to become a seaman with a French company. According to reports from his uncle, Joseph Conrad had turned sucidal following a few setbacks. However, Conrad experinced a change of fortune with British Merchant Service in 1878. He found a family within his peers and was able to move up in ranks, eventually becoming an Ordinary Master of the British merchant marine. Conrad’s sea career spanned twenty years thoroughtout which he would study English language to the very heart and soul of it. No less than four years of his career he would spent in the Belgian Congo, where he had the experiences to write his novel Heart of Darkness about what he witnessed daily from the natives of the Congo and the darkness he saw and felt.
After twenty years at sea, he settled in London, where amidst the battles with his poor health until his death in 1924, produced some of the finest novels ever written in the planet. Had he been in good health during those years, given the mastery [perhaps the only novelist we could have said mastered, with the exception of William Shakespeare] of English, his adopted language, what he could have achieved, would have been beyond the imagination of mortals.

1975: The Other side of the Heart of Darkness
Chinua Achebe: An Image of Africa: Racism in Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness.

It might be contended, of course, that the attitude to the African in Heart of Darkness is not Conrad’s but that of his fictional narrator, Marlow, and that far from endorsing it Conrad might indeed be holding it up to irony and criticism. Certainly Conrad appears to go to considerable pains to set up layers of insulation between himself and the moral universe of his history. He has, for example, a narrator behind a narrator. The primary narrator is Marlow but his account is given to us through the filter of a second, shadowy person. But if Conrad’s intention is to draw a cord on sanitaire between himself and the moral and psychological malaise of his narrator his care seems to me totally wasted because he neglects to hint however subtly or tentatively at an alternative frame of reference by which we may judge the actions and opinions of his characters. It would not have been beyond Conrad’s power to make that provision if he had thought it necessary. Marlow seems to me to enjoy Conrad’s complete confidence — a feeling reinforced by the close similarities between their two careers.
Marlow comes through to us not only as a witness of truth, but one holding those advanced and humane views appropriate to the English liberal tradition which required all Englishmen of decency to be deeply shocked by atrocities in Bulgaria or the Congo of King Leopold of the Belgians or wherever.
Thus Marlow is able to toss out such bleeding-heart sentiments as these:

They were dying slowly — it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Brought from all the recesses of the coast in all the legality of time contracts, lost in uncongenial surroundings, fed on unfamiliar food, they sickened, became inefficient, and were then allowed to crawl away and rest.

     The kind of liberalism espoused here by Marlow/Conrad touched all the best minds of the age in England, Europe and America. It took different forms in the minds of different people but almost always managed to sidestep the ultimate question of equality between white people and black people. That extraordinary missionary, Albert Schweitzer, who sacrificed brilliant careers in music and theology in Europe for a life of service to Africans in much the same area as Conrad writes about, epitomizes the ambivalence. In a comment which has often been quoted Schweitzer says: “The African is indeed my brother but my junior brother.” And so he proceeded to build a hospital appropriate to the needs of junior brothers with standards of hygiene reminiscent of medical practice in the days before the germ theory of disease came into being. Naturally he became a sensation in Europe and America. Pilgrims flocked, and I believe still flock even after he has passed on, to witness the prodigious miracle in Lamberene, on the edge of the primeval forest.
Conrad’s liberalism would not take him quite as far as Schweitzer’s, though. He would not use the word brother however qualified; the farthest he would go was kinship. When Marlow’s African helmsman falls down with a spear in his heart he gives his white master one final disquieting look.

And the intimate profundity of that look he gave me when he received his hurt remains to this day in my memory — like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment.

    It is important to note that Conrad, careful as ever with his words, is concerned not so much about distant kinship as about someone laying a claim on it. The black man lays a claim on the white man which is well-nigh intolerable. It is the laying of this claim which frightens and at the same time fascinates Conrad, “… the thought of their humanity — like yours …. Ugly.”
The point of my observations should be quite clear by now, namely that Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist. [In the first publication of this article, the word here is “bloody” –a mildly blasphemous insult in England — so “a bloody racist” is the famous phrase to which Rabinowitz refers.] That this simple truth is glossed over in criticisms of his work is due to the fact that white racism against Africa is such a normal way of thinking that its manifestations go completely unremarked. Students of Heart of Darkness will often tell you that Conrad is concerned not so much with Africa as with the deterioration of one European mind caused by solitude and sickness. They will point out to you that Conrad is, if anything, less charitable to the Europeans in the story than he is to the natives, that the point of the story is to ridicule Europe’s civilizing mission in Africa. A Conrad student informed me in Scotland that Africa is merely a setting for the disintegration of the mind of Mr. Kurtz.
Which is partly the point. Africa as setting and backdrop which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind? But that is not even the point. The real question is the dehumanization of Africa and Africans which this age-long attitude has fostered and continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot. [*1] I do not doubt Conrad’s great talents. Even Heart of Darkness has its memorably good passages and moments:

It took the western literary world by surprise that Chinua Achebe would challenge a man honoured in the West for his “reverence for life”, and recognised as a paragon of Western liberalism.

However, Chinua Achebe’s searing critique is sometimes taught side-by-side with Joseph Conrad’s work, and is regularly included in critical editions of the text.

The first comprehensive rebuttal of Achebe’s critique was published in 1983 University of Sussex English professor Cedric Watts, who believes that there is in Achebe’s stance “an insinuation… that whites are disqualified on racial grounds from judging the text.” His essay “A Bloody Racist: About Achebe’s View of Conrad” defends Heart of Darkness as an anti-imperialist novel, suggesting that “part of its greatness lies in the power of its criticisms of racial prejudice.”
Cedric Watts: Conrad. Pearson Education, 1993 ISBN 81-7808-868-1 pp 128

Certainly, some of Marlow’s attitdes could , more than seventy years after the tale’s publication, seem patronising or misguided. Neverthelss, judged historically in the apprpriate context of its times, ‘Heart of Darkness’ can be seen predominently asa powefully ant-imperialist text. There is evidence that it contributed to internaitonal protest campaign which eventually resulted in the curbing of Belgian excesses in King Leopold’s Congo. E. D. Morel, leader of the Congo Reform Association, stated  that ‘ heart of Darkness’ was ‘the most poweful thing ever written on the subject of’; and Conrad sent encouraging letters to his acquatintance 9and Morel’s collaborator in the campaign), Roger Caement, who in 1904 published a parlimentary report documenting the atrocities committed by the Belgian administrators. On21 December 1903 for instance, Conrad write to Casement:

You cannot doubt that I form the warmest wishes for your sucess. A king, wealthy and unscruplous, is certianly no mean adversary…
It is an extraordinary thing that the conscience of Europe which seventy year ago has put down the slave trade on humanitarian grounds tolerates the Congo State to day. It is as if moral clock has been put back many hours
And th fact remains that… there exists in Africa a Congo State, created by the act of Eurpean Powers [,] where ruthless, systematic cruely towards the blacks is the basis of administration……
I do hope we shall meet before you leave. Once more my best wishes go with you on your crusade. Of course, you may make any use you like of what I write to you. UNQUOTE

Is that a bloody racist?

This critique has been attacked as “a political statement rather than a literary criticism.”Joseph Conrad has frequently been defended on the basis of the historical context in which he lived, or on the grounds that his writing is nonetheless “beautiful”.

When questioned about his view as to the “artistic merit” of Joseph Conrad‘s work, Achebe responded:

I never said at any point that you should stop attaching artistic merit to Heart of Darkness; if you want to you can. There are all kinds of sophisticated readings of Heart of Darkness, and there are some people who will not be persuaded there is anything wrong with it. [*2].
But all that I’m really demanding, I’m not simply putting it, I’m demanding that my reading stand beside these other readings..[*3].
Although he’s writing good sentences, he’s also writing about a people, and their life. And he says about these people that they are rudimentary souls… The Africans are the rudimentaries, and then on top are the good whites. Now I don’t accept that, as a basis for… As a basis for anything

[*2] Would you count me in, please?
[*3] Yes, of course, why not? You are free to interpret. So I take it, you confine your criticism of Joseph Conrad strictly to the novella “Heart of Darkness“.

“part of its greatness lies in the power of its criticisms of racial prejudice.”
Cedric Watts essay “A Bloody Racist: About Achebe’s View of Conrad”

Palestinian–American theorist Edward Said agreed in his book Culture and Imperialism that Conrad criticised imperialism, but added:As a creature of his time, Conrad could not grant the natives their freedom, despite his severe critique of the imperialism that enslaved them”.

Achebe’s criticism has become a mainstream perspective on Conrad’s work. The essay was included in the 1988 Norton critical edition of Conrad’s novel. Editor Robert Kimbrough called it one of “the three most important events in Heart of Darkness criticism since the second edition of his book …”
Critic Nicolas Tredell divides Conrad criticism “into two epochal phases: before and after Achebe.”

Asked frequently about his essay, Achebe once explained that he never meant for the work to be abandoned [*1]: “It’s not in my nature to talk about banning books. I am saying, read it – with the kind of understanding and with the knowledge I talk about. And read it beside African works.”

Interviewed on National Public Radio with Robert Siegel, in October 2009, Achebe remains consistent, although tempering this criticism in a discussion entitled “Heart of Darkness” is inappropriate”: “Conrad was a seductive writer. He could pull his reader into the fray. And if it were not for what he said about me and my people, I would probably be thinking only of that seduction.”

1979, Apocalypse Now: A Modern Adoptation of Heart of Darkness
“Apocalypse Now” is a 1979 American epic adventure war film set during the Vietnam War.

It is the height of the war in Vietnam. U.S. Army Captain Willard is sent by Colonel Lucas and a General to carry out a mission that, officially, ‘does not exist – nor will it ever exist’. The mission: To seek out a mysterious Green Beret Colonel, Walter Kurtz, whose army has crossed the border into Cambodia and is conducting hit-and-run missions against the Viet Cong and NVA. The army believes Kurtz has gone completely insane and Willard’s job is to eliminate him! Willard, sent up the Nung River on a U.S. Navy patrol boat, discovers that his target is one of the most decorated officers in the U.S. Army. His crew meets up with surfer-type Lt-Colonel Kilgore, head of a U.S Army helicopter cavalry group which eliminates a Viet Cong outpost to provide an entry point into the Nung River. After some hair-raising encounters, in which some of his crew are killed, Willard, Lance and Chef reach Colonel Kurtz‘s outpost, beyond the Do Lung Bridge. Now, after becoming prisoners of Kurtz, will…

Director: Francis Ford Coppola (as Francis Coppola)
Writers: John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola (as Francis Coppola)
Stars: Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen

Following text is from Apocalypse Now, written by Francis Ford Coppola & John Milius.
An adoptation of Heart of Darkness  by Joseph Conrad. Herein we do make effort to grasp the trauma of the incident which tears Kurtz (Marlon Brando) off his soul. Perhaps it  is a painful trauma which splits him making him a model for (Dissociative Identity Disorder)  and MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder).

And because Kurtz is split: one split part of himself wants to commit suicide. And so Willard (Played by Martin Sheen), sent by the army to assassinate him, becomes part of his mad, split, suicide – he allows it to happen!!

The conscience comes from the Soul, the source of all judgement, and it is only those people who are cut off from their Souls who can do these horrible cruel things. This is the Horror. The Horror of the split off Ego creating DID (Disociative Identity Disorder) and MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder).

Kurtz: I’ve seen the horror. Horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and mortal terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.

I remember when I was with Special Forces–it seems a thousand centuries ago–we went into a camp to inoculate it. The children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us, and he was crying. He couldn’t see. We went there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile–a pile of little arms. And I remember…I…I…I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And I want to remember it, I never want to forget.

And then I realized–like I was shot…like I was shot with a diamond…a diamond bullet right through my forehead.

And I thought, “My God, the genius of that, the genius, the will to do that.” Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they could stand that–these were not monsters, these were men, trained cadres, these men who fought with their hearts, who have families, who have children, who are filled with love–that they had this strength, the strength to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral and at the same time were able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling, without passion, without judgment–without judgment.

Because it’s judgment that defeats us.

I worry that my son might not understand what I’ve tried to be, and if I were to be killed, Willard, I would want someone to go to my home and tell my son everything. Everything I did, everything you saw, because there’s nothing that I detest more than the stench of lies. And if you understand me, Willard, you… you will do this for me. 

And yet, that judgement is also called the conscience, and it comes from the higher parts of yourself called the Soul. As we contact the Soul through the traditional means of meditation, so we develop a Heart. 

It is not just the Germans of the Second World War who can kill six million Jews in the gas chambers of the concentrations camps. The trauma blockage caused splits create people able to do this in every country in the world at a rate of fifty percent of the population. It is not the Chinese, the Russians, the Americans or the British; it is the fifty percent of the population in every country who are blockage caused psychopaths.

We can understand just what percentage of humanity have hearts by means of polls. When the Guardian newspaper of the UK asked the people if they thought torture was necessary in order to protect the state from terrorists, against the Rules of the Geneva Convention, then between 30 (UK and France) and 50 (Israel and USA) percent of the people agreed with that statement.

When they asked the chief torturer of the Generals in Greece from the 1960’s just how he recruited his accomplices, he said it was easy, “We just recruited likely lads from the army each week and gave them some simple torturing jobs. If they did well, we kept them and promoted them. If they did badly, we sent them back”

It is the trauma – caused blockages (And then I realized–like I was shot…like I was shot with a diamond…a diamond bullet right through my forehead.) which cut us off from our souls, and allows us to do all manner of bad and immoral things

Tuition in English Literature Cambridge, EDEXCEL & National at Kandana by bunpeiris

Tuition in English Literature Cambridge, EDEXCEL & National at Kandana by bunpeiris



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