Heart of Darkness: by Joseph Conrad - Summary & Analysis

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Summary

      Heart of Darkness story by Joseph Conrad, written in 1899 and published in 1902 in Youth A Narrative, with Two Other Stories. The narrator, Marlow, tells the story of four friends as they wait for the tide to turn on a ship in the Thames estuary. Employed by a European trading company; Marlow's earlier destination had been another ancient river, in Africa: he was to replace a river-steamer captain killed by natives in a quarrel over two black hens. Meeting with the representatives of Western civilization, both, at the trading post and the Central Station (to which he has to trek), only to the ominous and unreal aspect of his adventure. The atrocious: suffering of the native workers, witnessed by Marlow, goes unnoticed by his colleagues, who are in Africa solely to extract its ivory.

      Marlow becomes curious about a man called Kurtz, an agent who has surpassed all others: his reputation for acquiring ivory is apparently matched by his general cultivation and idealism. Having found his steam-boat grounded, Marlow's efforts to refloat her are given the added motive of reaching Kurtz, who is seriously ill.

      The discovery of the true motives of the Company officers (they are impending the rescue attempt) is only a rehearsal for Marlow's later insights into the mind of Kurtz. Expecting to meet an apostle of Western altruism, Marlow finds a man who has made himself the native's god; their rites have become his, and the diabolical truth about Kurtz's behavior is signaled to Marlow when he sees that the posts outside Kurtz's hut are decorated with human heads. Marlow, who has spoken of the value of restraint, retains paradoxical admiration for Kurtz, whose deathbed cry - The horror! The horror!' - intimates a kind of desperate self-knowledge.

Analysis

      "Heart of Darkness'' is simply a piece of art-very impressive and fascinating. Conrad's art lies in the depiction of a whiteman's hostile, unsympathetic and inhuman relationship with the backward natives of dark Africa and in the story of a European, Mr. Kurtz, who becomes an embodiment of evil due to his prolonged stay in the dark continent of Congo. There are various themes so skillfully interwoven in the novel that they produce an artistic design and unity. All the characters and events are elaborately narrated with due emphasis on the psychological analysis of the human mind.

      "Heart of Darkness" contains many autobiographical elements and its narrator, Marlow, is regarded as the mouthpiece of Joseph Conrad; but inspite of their deep resemblance, they also differ a little. Nearly all the characters and incidents are symbolic and highly suggestive.

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