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Heart Of Darkness, Things Fall Apart And Apocalypse Now Comparison

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Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse once wisely noted, “Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and cruelties”. The entire ensemble of characters in Heart of Darkness, Things Fall Apart and Apocalypse Now are filled with a strong sense of tradition and culture. This culture not only dictates ritualistic and hollow day to day practices; it begins to define the profound inner workings of souls. However, the uproars of hell are felt among all when these fierce cultures collide with one another. The culture crashes in each respective story push beliefs past their limits and shake every tradition to its core.

Every story seems to have three distinct groups of people, each of which with its own customs and practices. In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, these groups are the sailors on the Nellie, the Company and the natives in the jungle which Kurtz seems to have dominion over. The sailors are held together by the “bond of the sea” (Conrad 64) and their traditions are, for the vast majority, those of respect and care. When the first narrator explains that the Director of Companies is also their captain, the audience bears witness to the crews strong comradery, “We four affectionately watched his backвЂ¦Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (Conrad 65). It becomes evident that the respect that they hold for one another via their вЂ?bond’ comes to closely resemble love and admiration. Through this love, they grew to be tolerant of each others yarns and convictions and therefore grew silent for the beginning of Marlow’s tale even if in actuality they felt “fated before the ebb began” (Conrad 69). This strong relationship is sharply contrasted to traditions held by the Company that seem to be more self-interested.

When Marlow is thanking his aunt for providing him with his new job, she says that she is just elated in knowing that he will be working for a company that will be “weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways” (Conrad 78). He quickly retorts that he believes the company is run for a profit. Marlow’s theory is proven correct twice later in the story. The first instance occurs when he is in need of rivets to fix his ship to continue his quest and the Company, for some odd reason, will not supply him. This is the first clash of traditions in the novel, through which, Marlow becomes slightly off hinged and begins to randomly mumble about need of rivets. Later in the novel the audience discovers that the Company stops providing Kurtz’s settlement with provisions and medications. This lack of care contributes largely to Kurtz’s death. The most interesting culture settled (or employed) by the company is that of the cannibals. They are paid in brass wire to maintain the engines of the ship. Yet, their abundant salary serves them no purpose when trying to attain food, for there is no where for them to barter the wire. This lack of trade causes them to grow increasingly hungry, of which Marlow comments, “no fear can stand up to hunger, no patience can wear it out, disgust simply does not exist where hunger is; and as to superstition, beliefs and what you may call principles, they are less than chaff in the breeze” (Conrad 126). Yet, through their hunger, they stick to their principles and show restraint, for they never once express thoughts of attacking the white men on the ship for sustenance, even though they greatly out number them. The values of the cannibals employed by the Company greatly resemble that of the natives in the jungle that worship Kurtz.

The natives share a strong bond and at most occurrences in the novel, seem as one entity. All their customs and traditions revolve around insuring that their god is kept contented. When Kurtz assumes the role of deity, the natives quickly begin to fear that Marlow’s entrance signifies that their god will be taken away from them. This becomes the cause for attacking Marlow’s boat and the unintentionally murder the helmsman (Conrad 149). Although for the majority of their appearance in the novel they “do not stir unless Kurtz [gives] the word” their most profound display of culture and tradition occurs at Kurtz’s death (Conrad 153). They “keep vigil, beating drums” and perform elaborate yet solemn dance rituals in mourning (Conrad 162). Their initial culture and traditions outlive the new cultural influences of Kurtz in this particular clash.

His experiences with various cultures throughout Heart of Darkness ultimately cause Marlow to gain a perspective on life. He gains respect for the other cultures and beings to adapt small pieces of each into his life. In the opening and closing lines of the novel, Marlow is described as sitting cross-legged, closely resembling a Buddha. He obviously saw that the god-complex that Kurtz held was beneficial, if only in moderation. His best demonstration of culture adaptation however is best depicted when he lies to Kurtz’s Intended and tells her that the last words out of Kurt’s mouth were her name. Although the film Apocalypse Now was based off of Conrad’s novel, this final scene does not take place in the movie.

Although this scene is omitted, the film still retains the schema of three groups of varying cultures and traditions. The Special Forces, Americans and the natives fulfill that purpose. The Special Forces or any military group for that matter, are bound by many rigorous traditions that make them appear to be unified, under control and powerful. In the opening sequences of the film, the Special Forces perfectly fit that mold by being nonchalant about assigning the protagonist, Willard on an assassination mission over a roast beef lunch. Yet, when on the actual battlefield, the traditions of militant code seem to break down, as people in control are no longer under the supervision of Big Brother. Soldiers such as Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore are a perfect example of such. He tells his men that they can “either surf or [they] can fight” when in the middle of standing under an air attack (Apocalypse Now). Willard realizes then that Kurtz must have done something far worse than ensue crazy tactics, for there was enough crazy to go around on the field. The final side of militant tradition lies within the petty soldiers on the boat with Willard. These men act more as young boys who would rather be surfing, cooking or at home with their mothers, boys that should have nothing to do with war. Their inexperience and fear is established during the accidental murders of the civilians on the jugboat. Although these boys were trained to kill,



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