Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
reviewed by John Williamson
Joseph Conrad's masterpiece of fiction tells of a dark journey into the Congo during the 1800s. Full of commentary on Conrad's society, the story follows the trials of young Marlow as he traverses the treacherous river in search of the mysterious Kurtz. Accompanied by a group of naive pilgrims and businessmen lusting after ivory, Marlow soon realizes that jungle isn't what he thought it would be. Perils lurk in every twist of the river, from hostile natives to looming obstacles that would sink their boat. Despite the ordeal of a native attack, the party meets up with an Russian agent, who reportedly knew Kurtz, only to discover that the jungle has stolen most of his mind and Kurtz the remainder. While talking to the Russian, a group of natives surround them and Kurtz finally appears. Rather than the savage and proud man Marlow had been expecting, Kurtz is a shallow husk of a man, or in Conrad's words, "It was as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory had been shaking its hand with menaces at a motionless crowd of men made of dark and glittering bronze." Death-ridden Kurtz may be, but he refuses to give up the location of his secret stash of ivory. And with that refusal and the words: "The horror! The horror!", Kurtz breathes his last.
The Heart of Darkness, from the very beginning, is a social commentary of Conrad's time. The brutal treatment of Africans by Europeans is featured heavily, with Marlow witnessing a pit of dead and dying slaves, most of whom have not even the energy to move. The jungle is also under fire, since men went mad over ivory, like Kurtz, the Russian, and even the Manager(head businessman) desperately hording it. Disease ran rampart throughout the jungle as well, taking many lives from Africans and Europeans alike. But what comes under fire most of all is human nature itself. What do Kurtz's dying words mean? Does "The horror" refer to Guilt? Greed? Anger? Jealousy? That is the question that The Heart of Darkness leaves us with and may be the question of humanity itself