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“Marlow And Kurtz’S Transformation As A Result Of Their Journey Into The African Congo”

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Shavaughn Jones

Literature 12

Due: Wednesday 12 March 2008

“Marlow and Kurtz’s transformation as a result of their journey into the African Congo”


Novel’s often reflect characters coming to an understanding of the significance of their physical surroundings so they can make sense of their social situation. Discuss with reference to a text you have studied.

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves is not a pretty thing when you look at it too much” (20) Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness is a story of one man's journey through the African Congo and the "enlightenment" of his soul. Heart of Darkness attempts to reveal the darker side of human nature when man finds himself outside the realm of societal mannerisms and expectations by exploring the tensions between reality and unreality, civilization versus savagery. Marlow's catharsis in the novel rests on how he visualizes the effects of imperialism in the new physical surrounding he is placed in. There were distinguished differences between Kurtz’s and Marlow's "change" as a result of their exposure to the reality of the imperialistic nature of the historical period in which they lived.

Heart of Darkness has two settings which are constantly being dichotomized with each other. The first social setting the reader is introduced to is England which Marlow retrospectively compares to a “Gravesend.”(15) The English society is generalized to share a naÐ"Їve mentality, which at the beginning of his journey also includes Marlow. We first begin to recognise the general naivetÐ"© of the English society when Marlow is visiting his aunt for the last time before he begins his journey. Marlow’s aunt is under the impression that the journey her nephew is being sent on a mission to “wean those ignorant millions from their horrid ways.”(28) In reality, the Europeans are in the Congo solely for imperialistic purposes with their primary objective being to earn a substantial profit by collecting all the ivory in Africa.

"What would be unspeakable horror in London...becomes, on the Congo River, an unremarkable topic of conversation..." Before he ventured into the vast and dark land, Marlow described The Congo River as “a blank space of delightful mystery”(22). Eventually, he learned that that the land was indeed no mystery at all, only a product of the inexorable covetousness of capitalistic humans. Some ventured into the Congo resisted the alluring power of freedom, and others were lucky enough to “glide past [it], a slightly disdainful ignorance” (68) Marlow learnt that although the wilderness was called to his “very heart [with] its mystery, its greatness, the amazing reality of [its] concealed life” (95) life in the Congo was an illusion, a dream that could never be obtained, a “deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness” (124) because man’s heart is naturally dark the liberty offered in the Congo would prevent any harmonious living environment.

The effects alienation and loneliness for extended periods of time in a remote, uncontrolled environment have on man’s mind is a predominant theme in Heart of Darkness. Kurtz can be seen as a character who has adjusted his behaviour to the new, ungoverned environment. He has become “a shadow of insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightful realities; a shadow darker than the shadow of the night, and draped nobly in the folds of a gorgeous eloquence… вЂ" the heart of a conquering darkness”(117) and the character that Marlow could become. “Marlow himself points out that “[he] was getting savage” but something stopped him from indulging in the darkness that Kurtz had submitted to.

“The horror, the horror”(112) is Kurtz’s final judgement on his



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