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Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness, a novel by Joseph Conrad, was originally a three-part series in Blackwood's Magazine in 1899. It is a story within a story, following a character named Charlie Marlow, who recounts his adventure to a group of men onboard an anchored ship. The story told is of his early life as a ferry boat captain. Although his job was to transport ivory downriver, Charlie develops an interest in investing an ivory procurement agent, Kurtz, who is employed by the government. Preceded by his reputation as a brilliant emissary of progress, Kurtz has now established himself as a god among the natives in “one of the darkest places on earth.” Marlow suspects something else of Kurtz: he has gone mad.

A reflection on corruptive European colonialism and a journey into the nightmare psyche of one of the corrupted, Heart of Darkness is considered one of the most influential works ever written.

188 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1899

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About the author

Joseph Conrad

2,439 books4,042 followers
Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski ) was a Polish-born English novelist who today is most famous for Heart of Darkness, his fictionalized account of Colonial Africa.

Conrad left his native Poland in his middle teens to avoid conscription into the Russian Army. He joined the French Merchant Marine and briefly employed himself as a wartime gunrunner. He then began to work aboard British ships, learning English from his shipmates. He was made a Master Mariner, and served more than sixteen years before an event inspired him to try his hand at writing.

He was hired to take a steamship into Africa, and according to Conrad, the experience of seeing firsthand the horrors of colonial rule left him a changed man.

Joseph Conrad settled in England in 1894, the year before he published his first novel. He was deeply interested in a small number of writers both in French and English whose work he studied carefully. This was useful when, because a need to come to terms with his experience, lead him to write Heart of Darkness, in 1899, which was followed by other fictionalized explorations of his life.

He has been lauded as one of the most powerful, insightful, and disturbing novelists in the English canon despite coming to English later in life, which allowed him to combine it with the sensibilities of French, Russian, and Polish literature.

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Profile Image for Richard.
1,146 reviews1,041 followers
May 31, 2019
First of all, get this straight: Heart of Darkness is one of those classics that you have to have read if you want to consider yourself a well-educated adult.

    Having watched Apocalypse Now doesn’t count — if anything, it ups the ante, since that means you have to think about the similarities and differences (for example, contrast and compare the U.S. involvement in Vietnam with the Belgian rule over the Congo. Actually quite an intriguing and provocative question).

    The prose can feel turgid, but perhaps it may help to know that English was Conrad’s third language. His second was French, and that lends a lyric quality which, once accomodated, can draw you into the mood of the story. Once you get used to that, this is a very easy book to read — tremendously shorter than Moby-Dick , for instance.

    Even though it is so much easier to read, this short novel shares with Moby-Dick the distressing (for many of us) fact that it is heavily symbolic. That is the reason it has such an important place in the literary canon: it is very densely packed with philosophical questions that fundamentally can’t be answered.

    Frankly, I was trained as an engineer, and have to struggle even to attempt to peer through the veils of meaning. I’m envious of the students in the Columbia class that David Denby portrays in his 1995 article in the New Yorker, The Trouble with “Heart of Darkness”. I wish I had been guided into this deep way of perceiving literature — or music, or art, or life itself.

    But most of us don’t have that opportunity. The alternate solution I chose: when I checked this out of the library, I also grabbed the Cliff’s Notes. I read the story, then thought about it, then finally read the Study Guide to see what I’d missed. What I found there was enough to trigger my curiosity, so I also searched the internet for more.

    And there was quite a bit. Like, the nature of a framed narrative: the actual narrator in Heart of Darkness isn’t Marlow, but some unnamed guy listening to Marlow talk. And he stands in for us, the readers, such as when he has a pleasant perspective on the beautiful sunset of the Thames at the beginning of the story, then at the end he has been spooked and sees it as leading “into the heart of an immense darkness”, much as the Congo does in the story

    That symbolic use of “darkness” is a great example of what makes this book, and others like it, so great. The “immense darkness” is simultaneously the real unknown of the jungle, as well as the symbolic “darkness” that hides within the human heart. But then it is also something that pervades society — so the narrator has been made aware that London, just upstream, really should be understood to be as frightening as the Congo. And the reader should understand that, too.

    The book is full of that kind of symbolism. When Conrad was writing, a much larger portion of the reading public would have received a “classical” liberal arts education and would have perceived that aspect of the book easier than most of us do today. Yeah, the book is so dense with this kind of symbolism, it can be an effort. But that is precisely the element that made the book a stunning success when it was written. T.S. Elliot, for example, referred to it heavily in his second-most-famous poem, The Hollow Men — the poem’s epigraph makes it explicit: Mistah Kurtz- he dead. (For more of that connection, see this short answer at stackexchange, or track down a copy of this academic analysis. An annotated copy of Elliot’s poem here can be edifying, too.)

    Not all of the symbolism worked for me. For example, my initial take on how ‘evil’ was dealt with seemed anachronistic and naive. Actually, it felt a lot like Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray . In both books, the main character has inadvertently received license to fully explore their evil inclinations without the normal societal consequences, and yet they both pay the ultimate penalty for their lack of restraint. But my perspective on evil was long ago captured by Hannah Arendt’s conclusion after analyzing Eichmann: evil is a “banal” absence of empathy; it isn’t some malevolent devilish force striving to seduce and corrupt us. Certainly, there are evil acts and evil people, but nothing mystical or spiritual that captures and enslaves, much less transforms us from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde.

    Golding’s Lord of the Flies examined the question, but did it in a much more modern manner. (I strongly recommend it.) If people aren’t reminded by the constraints of civilization to treat others with respect, then sometimes they’ll become brutal and barbaric. But is their soul somehow becoming sick and corrupted? The question no longer resonates.

    Even Conrad actually didn’t seem too clear on that question. These two quotes are both from Heart of Darkness — don’t they seem implicitly contradictory?:
    The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.
    Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn’t touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror—of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:
    ‘The horror! The horror!’
    The former denies any supernatural origin for evil, but the latter alludes to the tragic results of a Faustian bargain — Marlowe sold his soul to see what mortals should never witness.

    After pondering the study guide, I could see the allegorical content better. The mystical side of Heart of Darkness isn’t the only thing going on. Like the kids rescued from the island after Lord of the Flies, Marlow will forever be cognizant of how fragile civilized behavior can be, and how easily some slip into brutality — even those that have excellent motives and apparently unblemished characters. This is why he tells this as a cautionary tale to his shipmates on the Thames.

    Marlow also received a clear lesson on hypocrisy. I hadn’t seen how deeply “The Company” represented European hypocrisy. Obviously “The Company” was purely exploitative and thus typical of imperialism, but in subtle ways Conrad made it not just typical but allegorically representative. One example Cliff mentions scares me just a bit: in the offices of “The Company” in Brussels, Marlow notices the strange sight of two women knitting black wool. Conrad provides no explanation. But recall your mythology: the Fates spun out the thread that measured the lives of mere mortals. In the story, these are represented as women who work for “The Company”, which has ultimate power over the mere mortals in Africa. That’s pretty impressive: Conrad tosses in a tiny aside that references Greek (or Roman or Germanic) mythology and ties it both to imperialism, as well as to the power that modern society has handed to corporations, and quietly walks away from it. How many other little tidbits are buried in this short book? Frankly, it seems kind of spooky.

    The study guide also helped me understand what had been a major frustration of the book. I thought that Conrad had skipped over too much, leaving crucial information unstated. Between Marlow’s “rescue” of Kurtz and Kurtz’s death there are only a few pages in the story, but they imply that the two had significant conversations that greatly impressed Marlow, that left Marlow awestruck at what Kurtz had intended, had survived, and had understood. These impressions are what “broke” Marlow, but we are never informed of even the gist of those conversations.

    But Marlow isn’t our narrator: he is on the deck of a ship, struggling to put into words a story that still torments him years after the events had passed. Sometimes he can’t convey what we want to know; he stumbles, he expresses himself poorly. The narrator is like us, just listening and trying to make sense out of it, and gradually being persuaded of the horrors that must have transpired.

    •     •     •     •     •     •     •     •

    Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was written in 1899. A critical event which allowed the tragedy portrayed here was the Berlin Conference of 1884 (wikipedia), where the lines that divided up Africa were tidied up and shuffled a bit by the white men of Europe (no Africans were invited). The BBC4 radio programme In Our Time covered the conference on 31 October 2013. Listen to it streaming here, or download it as an MP3 here. Forty-three minutes of erudition will invigorate your synapses.

    Oh, if you liked that In Our Time episode, here is the one they did on the book itself (mp3).
Profile Image for Sarah Fisher.
89 reviews65 followers
December 4, 2013
Never in all my life has 100 little pages made me contemplate suicide...violent suicide. i had to finish it. i had no choice (yay college!). every page was literally painful.

am i supposed to feel sorry for him? because i don't. i feel sorry for all of Africa getting invaded with dumbasses like this guy. oh and in case you didn't get it...the "heart of darkness" is like this super deep megametaphor of all metaphors. and in case it wasn't clear enough, conrad will spend many many useless words clearly explaining the layers of depth his metaphor can take. oh man...my heart is dark...and i'm also in the middle of Africa...and it's dark...and depressing...get it...get it...
Profile Image for Sonanova.
26 reviews81 followers
July 10, 2007
Proving yet again that doing a concept first will get you immortalized, while doing it WELL will make you an unknown and forgotten writer at best, I also learned that in Conrad's time, people could drone on and on with metaphors and it wasn't considered cliched, but "art." I blame this book and others like it for some of the most painful literature created by students and professional writers alike.

It was like raking my fingernails across a chalkboard while breathing in a pail of flaming cat hair and drinking spoiled milk, meanwhile Conrad is screaming DARKNESS DARKNESS OOOH LOOK AT MY METAPHOR ABOUT THE DARKNESSSSSSSSSSS like a fucking goth on a loudspeaker.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,093 reviews17.7k followers
August 18, 2020
From 1885 to 1908, an area in Africa now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium, experienced an intense genocide. Through the Red Rubber system, the people of the Congo were essentially enslaved to harvest rubber. Those who failed to collect enough rubber had their hands chopped off. Some died from disease brought on by the terrible conditions, while others were just flat-out murdered. It is estimated that around three to thirteen million people died between 1885 and 1908, perhaps 25 to 50 percent of the total population. By the end of this period, the Congo, which just a 100 years ago had hosted the expansive and successful Kongo Empire, had seen its natural resources destroyed, its people mutilated, and its entire society changed forever.

The negative legacy of colonialism is strong throughout Africa and across the world, but the Congo is one of the countries that suffered most. This is a horrifying, disgusting legacy. And one that this book does not on any level respect.

On the surface, this book can be read as anti-colonialist, a narrative that decries the brutality with which King Leopold II and other rulers allowed African people to be treated. This reading is comforting to us. It feels right. How can we read of their deaths and not feel ashamed? How can we see the heads of so-called rebels on pikes and not find ourselves filled with horror? How can we read a scene in which people walk in a chain gang and not find our deepest sympathies with them? How could Conrad not have felt the same?

But I do not believe that is the intent, or, to be quite honest, an accurate reading of the narrative of this book. Conrad’s descriptions and depictions of black people are dehumanizing to their core. No black character in this book feels real, feels like a person we may empathize with and care for. It is in the descriptions of Kurtz’s black mistress, of the slave-boy whose only contribution to the narrative is the line “Mistah Kutz, he dead” - Conrad does not share our empathies. Our horror at their fate and in their suffering is our own, not the narrators.

The thing about this book is that it’s not a criticism of colonialism, and while reading it as such feels viable on the surface, looking deeper into the narrative makes this book feel odder and odder. This book is a look at the depth of human evil and how that can be brought out when society breaks down. Notice the end of that sentence? Because the reason Africa is the subject of this book is because this narrative fundamentally believes that Africa is a primitive, uncivilized, immoral landscape. Which I find to be an inaccurate and frankly immoral view of Africa. The historical record of our time shows that pre-Colonial (and pre-slave trade) African civilization was filled with the same life as European civilizations, and populated by strong kingdoms. Conrad emphatically believes otherwise. And while I am willing to understand on some level that this was an ingrained belief of European colonists, this book pushes this message to a very high degree - it’s irrevocably tied to the message of the book - that I found impossible to ignore.

Yes, the idea is also pushed that the people of Europe are really no different from the people of the Congo. I am fully aware that Joseph Conrad is getting at the idea that none of us are so evolved and none of us are so civilized ourselves and white society cannot put itself totally above others. Conrad is explicitly attempting to put black people and white people on an equal level of brutality. But this narrative is still fundamentally flawed. The white characters in this book are evil colonists, but they are depicted as people. The black characters of this book are “savages.” They are rebels. At best, they are the helmsman, unnamed in his own narrative and dying ten pages in. At worst, they are literal cannibals. The narrative shows a fundamental dehumanization of each “savage” character, undermining any sort of anti-colonialist or pro-African message.

And I find that fundamentally disturbing. If I cannot feel any horror within the narrative for a genocide, a time in which culture was destroyed and the environment strangled and thousands slaughtered for the profit of an empire, how can I garner anything from this book? How can I, in good conscience, enjoy or recommend this book?

I understand and appreciate that many are going to read this review and think I misread the text, because this book is a classic. I would remind them that no work of literature can be kept free from critique because it has stood the test of time. And beyond that, I do not believe this is at all a surface reading. It’s been pushed in the minds of many that reading this book as racist is a surface-level interpretation, but I genuinely believe that the racism is what you get upon close reading.

Literary analysis of racist historical works is a polarizing and complex topic, and I recognize that many will feel antagonistic towards this viewpoint. I also fully admit that this book makes good use of an unreliable narrator and is one of the most gritty classics I have read as to its depiction of the human soul, and I have nothing against those who enjoyed it. But I cannot enjoy this for those and erase the flaws. I cannot appreciate the literary merit of a book that lacks a fundamental understanding of the humanity of black people. And I'm not sure I believe that I should.

recommended reading: Chinua Achebe's beautifully rendered essay on Heart of Darkness.

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Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
May 29, 2022
“We live in the flicker -- may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.”

Marlow is not just a narrator or an alter ego of Conrad, but a universal everyman, timeless. And that, to me, is the greatest appeal of this book, it is timeless.

“Like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker.”

The scene of Marlow sitting Buddha like as the Thames dreams into slow darkness and his voice takes on a disembodied, spiritual cast is iconic and Conrad's vision of history repeating itself as wicked and despotic civilization "discovers" it's ancient cousin is a ubiquitous theme in Conrad's work and one that is masterfully created here. As the Britons and Picts were to the Romans, so to are the Africans to the Europeans and Conrad has demonstrated his timely message.

“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.”

A search for hidden meaning, a quest, mysteries solved and others unanswered, self realization and epiphany. Conrad winds it all up in this classic.

“The horror! The horror!”

***** 2018 re-read

I think there was a recent poll about what was the book you have re-read the most. No doubt for me, it’s this one, read it a couple times in HS, few times in college and innumerable times since. Looks like this is the third in the Goodreads era.

As a scholar I have to be concise and methodical, precisely citing and referencing to a given treatise or authority. When reading for pleasure, I’m much more intuitive, allowing my mind to wander and to muse and to collect abstract thoughts and make obscure connections as I read.

This time around I payed more attention to this story as it was written, a tale told in the gathering darkness near the mouth of the Thames, Marlow’s voice a disembodied narration spinning an account of a time before but one that is ageless nonetheless. The connection he makes between the Romans coming up the Thames and the Westerners traveling up the Congo is provocative and somber.

As always, this is a story about Kurtz and his voice, that eloquent but hollow voice in the darkness, a civilized man gone native, but more than that, a traveler shedding away the trappings of an enlightened age and looking into the abyss.

Whether the natives are dark skinned or white with blue tattoos, the image is the same and the message is all the more haunting.

On a short list of my favorites or all time, this may be my favorite.

*** 2022 reread

I recently rewatched Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant 1979 film Apocalypse Now starring Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen and so decided it was past time to reread one of my all time favorite books. This is a short work, a novella really, so I should reread this annually.

This time I was confronted with the twin specters of a disembodied voice – the first, our narrator, Marlow, sitting Buddha like on the Thames estuary, the second Kurtz’ voice as remembered by Marlow – and it occurred to me that Conrad may have been alluding to the Gospel of John, as it begins “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Here, Conrad describes for us a Voice, crying out in the wilderness (like John the Baptist) and the word “wilderness” is used frequently rather that the more accurate “jungle” as this is set in the Congo.

I also spent more time considering the end of the work, after Kurtz, when Marlow is back in Europe and his strange eulogy about the fallen man, “Mr. Kurtz, he dead”.

Kurtz was the product of Europe, “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” and so Kurtz embodies the empirical lusts of the “crusading” Europeans in Africa (and historically to the Romans in ancient Britain) though Kurtz shrugs off the moralistic trappings of good intentions. Kurtz’s written statement, “Exterminate all the brutes” is evocative of his apocryphal dying declaration, “the horror”.

A must read.

Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book933 followers
September 29, 2021
Blessed was Odysseus, who returned, full of wisdom, after many conquests and adventures to live a peaceful old age with his wife and family. It didn’t go that well for Charles Marlow. Heart of Darkness is like The Odyssey or The Divine Comedy or the story of Sindbad or any hero’s journey for that matter, only upside down. Instead of an adventure that is ultimately a coming-of-age, a homecoming, a blessing, a regaining of paradise, Marlow’s expedition up the Congo River, in search of an illusory Eldorado, setting off “for the centre of the earth”, works as a step “into the gloomy circle of some Inferno”.

Conrad himself sailed up the Congo in his youth, so his novella is, in many ways, autobiographical. In the book, like Odysseus or Sindbad, Marlow tells the story of his adventures, and it, in turn, is told by an unnamed narrator, making it a second-degree account of the facts. We even meet, early on, a group of old women “knitting black wool” like a modern picture of the ancient Fates, dictating the destinies of humans and weaving the story in yet another way. At this point, while we are aware that the whole thing is a piece of fiction, the narrative’s multi-layered structure makes it all the more fantastical and unreal, and the reader is at risk of losing his footing, just like the hero of the story. So much so that, at some point towards the middle of the novel, putting his narrative in doubt, Marlow cries out:
Do you see him? Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream — making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream — sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams…

Heart of Darkness is a groundbreaking text that digs into the dark depths of the human psyche. And while it is written in sumptuous, almost marmoreal prose, it searches for sensations underneath language, nightmares underneath clear thought, the unutterable, silence, darkness. In short, only read Heart of Darkness with a double Polish vodka or a potent antidepressant close at hand!

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe argued that there is more than a whiff of racism in Conrad’s novel — not just because of his use of the N-word (which was commonplace at the time), but because the natives in his fiction, with few exceptions, are little more than animalistic stick figures. In a sense, Conrad is still in the rut of traditional European prejudices, whereby darkness, notably dark skin, is a symbol of ugliness, moral brutality, viciousness, even cannibalism (see Shakespeare’s “Moors”, for instance, Aaron in Titus Andronicus or Othello).

However, at the same time — and this shows how ambiguous and murky this short novel gets — Heart of Darkness can also be construed as a criticism of Western colonialism and a denunciation of White, Western ferocity — in this sense, there is a kinship between Heart of Darkness and Moby-Dick. From the start, Marlow reflects: “when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago — the other day... darkness was here”. Now flowing through one of the most civilised cities on earth, the River Thames was, not long ago, curving and coiling over a primitive wilderness. Besides, as the story later shows, it only takes a few weeks, on the shores of the Congo River, for a “cultured” European to revert into a stinking crook, eaten away by greed, and turn eventually into a beast or a demon or a grotesque deity. “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz.”

And so, Marlow’s journey through the jungle is also a trip into a primaeval past, before civilisation. But, further still: it doesn’t take the overheated wilderness of a remote, lonely and prehistoric tropical rainforest for the metamorphosis of the European culture into a slaughterhouse to happen. Kurtz, the man who sank into insanity and monstrosity, is described chiefly as “a voice! a voice!” Where that voice comes from is not entirely clear either. Is that just Kurtz’s voice? Is that Marlow’s voice telling his story? Conrad’s voice writing his novel? Or some other deeper voice that surfaces from a hollow, dark, ominous silence?

Heavens! how that man could talk. He electrified large meetings. He had faith — don’t you see? — he had the faith. He could get himself to believe anything — anything. He would have been a splendid leader of an extreme party.’ ‘What party?’ I asked. ‘Any party,’ answered the other. ‘He was an — an — extremist.’

Indeed, the last words of Kurtz’s imperialistic manifesto are, as an afterthought, “Exterminate all the brutes!” Conrad was writing in the very last years of the 19th century. But it is impossible, in retrospect, not to think that the “voice” he writes about wasn’t already born in the very heart of Europe; that Heart of Darkness wasn’t a foreshadowing vision of the horror and destruction that would, only a few decades later, cover the European continent.

Heart of Darkness has been an immensely influential novella. Céline possibly drew inspiration from it to write the African episode of Voyage au bout de la nuit. There are also many similarities between the atmosphere of this novel and the sense of cosmic terror that H.P. Lovecraft developed in his novellas. J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World displays some similitude to Conrad’s story as well.

Heart of Darkness has also obviously influenced the cinema, starting with Orson Welles, who unsuccessfully attempted to adapt it. Likewise with Werner Herzog’s cult film, Aguirre, the Wrath of God — an epic movie on insanity set in the Amazon jungle. Finally, Francis Ford Coppola famously turned Conrad’s novel into a staggering, baroque, disturbing masterpiece about the Vietnam War: Apocalypse Now!

Nowadays, the upper Congo is no longer the heart of a ruthless ivory trade. But the region holds vast quantities of minerals that are critical for Western/Asian computing and renewable energy industries. As a result, under the convergence of this new mineral rush, significant financial interests, military conflicts and political instability, this part of the world is once more the scene of human greediness, atrocities, murder, slavery and rape. In a weird way, Kurtz’s whispered cry still resonates with us, “The horror! The horror!”
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,461 reviews3,611 followers
February 28, 2023
Joseph Conrad seems to have known every nook and cranny of human soul… And this priceless knowledge made him one of the greatest innovators… And Heart of Darkness is simultaneously a polestar and milestone in the world literature.
But as I stood on this hillside, I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly. How insidious he could be, too, I was only to find out several months later and a thousand miles farther.

Darkness hates all the trespassers…
The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.

Darkness in the novel isn’t just the darkness of night and of animal instincts but it slowly becomes a symbol of the human nature itself…
Wash away the varnish of civilizing gloss off man and the darkness of heart will be revealed…
The vision seemed to enter the house with me – the stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of the reach between the murky bends, the beat of the drum, regular and muffled like the beating of a heart – the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul.

Darkness mercilessly destroys those who penetrate into its heart.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,988 reviews298k followers
September 12, 2016
I still don't know what I read here.

I finished this book with one sort-of word spinning around in my head... "eh?"

I read the whole book. Every page, every sentence, every word. And I couldn't tell you what it was about. I think I must have read more challenging books than this - Ulysses, Swann's Way, etc. - but none has left me so thoroughly clueless.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,118 reviews44.8k followers
July 17, 2016
Is Joseph Conrad a racist?

Well, that is a question, a question that is extremely difficult to answer. There are certainly racist aspects within Heart of Darkness. However, how far this is Conrad’s own personal opinion is near impossible to tell. Certainly, Marlowe, the protagonist and narrator, has some rather patronising notions as to how the Africans should be treated, and the image of the colonised is one of repression and servitude, but does this reflect Conrad’s own opinions? How far can we suggest that a fictional character embodies the author’s own notions of the world?

Marlowe could just be the embodiment of an ignorant Westerner with a misguided superiority complex. Conrad could have purposely written him this way to suggest how damaging the Westerner’s point of view was. There is also the consideration that the colonised doesn’t really have an intelligible voice through the entire novel, though, it must be noted, that the whole novel is technically a white man’s monologue; it is all reported speech rather than direct speech. So, everything Marlowe says could be bias; it could be slightly twisted with his perspective. Is this the intended effect? I don’t think anybody can say conclusively. Nor can anybody fully argue who Marlowe represents. I cannot personally tell whether he is an accidental suggestion of Conrad or a deliberate attempt to satirise the Western man. Convincing, and inconclusive, arguments can be made in either direction. This text is incredibly dense with conflicting interpretations. It’s hard to know what to make of it.

Well for all the difficulties with the racism angle, one thing is undeniable: Conrad does provide a harsh critique for colonialism. That cannot be ignored. Firstly, it can be seen as detrimental to the colonised. The Westerners exploit the tribes for their ivory and ship it back home. They take the wealth of the tribe folk, rouse their wrath and cause war between neighbouring villages. All in all, they shape the culture of the colonised; they destroy it. It provides an image of a society totally obsessed with monetary wealth, and how much they can gain through the evils of Imperialism. Secondly, it can be seen as detrimental to the coloniser. Kurtz enters the heart of the jungle and becomes completely corrupted. This suggests that the so called “savagery” of the tribe folk can set of the white man’s similar innate response; he can be altered and twisted into a lesser form. Conrad suggests that Kurtz becomes ruined as a result. But, this ruination could be attributed to the evils of colonisation rather than the black man’s influence. If both cultures can become ruined, then it can be read as a suggestion that colonisation is detrimental to all.

“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.”

So, Colonisation is bad. But, does this mean Conrad can no longer be considered a racist? If he wants to get rid of servitude and pull the white man out of the jungle, does this mean that this display of liberty ignores the difference between skin colours? No it doesn’t. Marlowe makes explicit reference to the “differences” between the white man and the black man. He doesn’t do this violently or purposely to offend; he does it in a patronising manner. He views the black man as a little brother, someone to be taught and led around. An educated black man then becomes whiter; he stands apart from his brethren. Indeed, the passage I’m about to quote is one that is used time and time again to suggest that Conrad is racist. Granted, the paragraph is terribly racist; it is patronising, offensive and vulgar. But, is this Conrad’s opinion? I recognise that this is a long quote, but the whole thing is needed to demonstrate what I’ve been trying to say:

“A slight clinking behind me made me turn my head. Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path. They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps. Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled to and fro like tails. I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope; each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking. Another report from the cliff made me think suddenly of that ship of war I had seen firing into a continent. It was the same kind of ominous voice; but these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies. They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea. All their meagre breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily uphill. They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages. Behind this raw matter one of the reclaimed, the product of the new forces at work, strolled despondently, carrying a rifle by its middle. He had a uniform jacket with one button off, and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his shoulder with alacrity. This was simple prudence, white men being so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I might be. He was speedily reassured, and with a large, white, rascally grin, and a glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust. After all, I also was a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings.”

The black man has been given animalistic traits. Marlowe describes them as having tails and remarks on their bodies in a way that suggests that they are beasts; they are mere tools for work in which the effectiveness of their body is their stock and trade. It’s all they have to go on: their ability to produce effective labour. Marlowe is repulsed by this idea; he recognises the absurdity of treating men like this, men who are apparently criminals. This is a criticism of Colonialism; it is a criticism of treating men this way. But, he, personally, describes them as savage; he, personally, suggests that their overseer, a black man who is employed by the Coloniser, is less black. Because he is guarding his fellow black man, he is now, according to Marlowe, whiter. This is blatant evidence that Marlowe (not Conrad) views the black man in a patronising manner. He opposes Colonialism, but he still views the black man as less than him.

Chinua Achebe takes this as direct evidence of Conrad’s own opinion. In his renowned essay, an image of Africa, he refers to Conrad as a “bloody racist.” He recognises that Marlowe may be a fictional creation, rather than an embodiment of Conrad’s own voice. But, he suggests that because Conrad didn’t condemn such racist remarks, they must therefore be approved by him. Achebe then went on to write a version of Heart of Darkness (Things fall Apart) from the black man’s perspective. I’ll be reviewing this soon in consideration with what I’m talking about here, but I think Achebe’s remarks are unfair. The evidence he provides is inconclusive. Conrad doesn’t condemn the racist remarks because he didn’t need to. If you view Marlowe as a purposeful creation of the Western man’s prejudice, then it would be awkward to condemn the prejudice. The ironic creation of such a character would achieve this without having to directly say it; it would be implied.

I’m unsure whether Conrad was a racist or not. There is not enough strong evidence to prove or disprove such an argument within the text. But, condemning him for being a racist is a little harsh; yes, racism is terrible, I’m not saying that. However, Conrad wrote at the end of the Victorian period. Whatever you may think about his possible viewpoints, to judge him by today’s standers is flawed. If you judge him by today’s rising liberal opinion regarding race, then you can systematically extend the same judgement to pretty much every author of the period and the periods that came before it. Half the English canon was probably racist. The Victorians, as a society, were racist. So was most of Western society for centuries. It’s how they saw the world; it’s how their society saw the world. This is, of course, a terrible thing. But it was the norm. If you dismiss Conrad based upon this, then you can dismiss many, many other authors too. So, for Joseph Conrad, who may or may not be racist, to condemn Imperialism and Colonialization is kind of a big step.

He is arguing against his entire government; he is suggesting that it is evil and corrupt. This is forward thinking stuff. It may sound simple by today’s standard, but this was the entire Western way of life. They cruelly, and systematically, built their wealth one of the most horrible situations in human history. For Conrad to point this out is almost revolutionary. I enjoyed reading his critique on it; I enjoyed the irony and how he suggests the evil of such a regime. But, regardless of this, I could never rate this book five stars. It is written phenomenally; it is bursting with literary merit; it is wonderfully interesting to read. Some of the prose is just beautiful. However, I will always see the unattributed whispers of racism in this work; I will always be aware of the possibility that it belongs to the author, and I cannot ignore that.
Profile Image for Jr Bacdayan.
211 reviews1,739 followers
September 11, 2016
Picture Review of Heart of Darkness

Visual Key:

White Man named Michael Cera – represents Imperialism

Sunset – shows the impending darkness that is latently inside man

Sea – represents the Congo River

Moustache – represents author Joseph Conrad who also has his own impressive facial hair

Red Bonnet – is a horrible choice of headwear thus might prompt one to remark "the horror! the horror!" which is also Kurtz' last words
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews41 followers
August 27, 2021
(Book 780 From 1001 Books) - Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness (1899) is a novella by Polish-English novelist Joseph Conrad, about a voyage up the Congo River into the Congo Free State, in the heart of Africa, by the story's narrator Charles Marlow.

Marlow tells his story to friends aboard a boat anchored on the River Thames.

This setting provides the frame for Marlow's story of his obsession with the ivory trader Kurtz, which enables Conrad to create a parallel between "the greatest town on earth" and Africa as places of darkness.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «دل تاریکی»، «در اعماق ظلمت»؛ «قلب تاریکی»؛ نویسنده: جوزف کنراد؛ انتشاراتیها (امیرکبیر، کتابهای جیبی، اکباتان، کلبه، سمیر، نیلوفر، علمی فرهنگی) ادبیات؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش ماه مارس سال 2002میلادی

عنوان: دل تاریکی، جوانی؛ نویسنده: جوزف کنراد؛ مترجم: محمدعلی صفریان؛ تهران، امیرکبیر، کتابهای جیبی، 1355؛ در 211ص؛ «جوانی از ص 9، تا ص 64»، «دل تاریکی از ص 65، تا ص 211»؛ موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان بریتانیا - سده 20م

عنوان: در اعماق ظلمت؛ نویسنده: جوزف کنراد؛ مترجم: فریدون حاجتی؛ تهران، اکباتان، 1365؛ در 184ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، کلبه، 1381، در184ص، شابک 9647545168؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، سمیر، 1386؛ در 184ص؛ شابک 9789648940534؛

عنوان: دل تاریکی؛ نویسنده: جوزف کنراد؛ مترجم: صالح حسینی؛ تهران، نیلوفر، 1373؛ در 190ص؛ شابک 9644481682؛ چاپ سوم 1389؛ چاپ چهارم 1393؛ شابک 9789644481680؛

عنوان: قلب تاریکی؛ نویسنده: جوزف کنراد؛ مترجم: کاوه نگارش؛ تهران، علمی فرهنگی، 1394؛ در هشت و 123ص؛ شابک 9786001219733؛

چکیده داستان: ملوانی به نام «مارلو» از دوران کودکی، دلتنگ رودی بزرگ است، که در منطقه ‌ای کاوش ‌نشده، در «آفریقا» جاری است؛ سال‌ها بعد، شرکتی که مأمور کاوش در آن منطقه است، فرماندهی یک کشتی ویژه ی حمل «عاج» را، به او می‌سپارد؛ «مارلو»، پس از سفری توانفرسا، و تمام‌ نشدنی، و کابوس‌گونه، سرانجام موفق می‌شود، تا در ژرفای منطقه، به کمپ شرکت برسد؛ اما همه چیز را آشفته، و در هم‌ ریخته، و مرموز می‌یابد؛ سکوت مرموزی بر بومیان ساکن آنجا حاکم است؛ «مارلو» به جستجوی نماینده ی شرکت، به نام «مستر کورتس» می‌پردازد، اما خبری از او در دست نیست؛ «مارلو» براساس نشانه‌ ها، به ژرفای جنگل‌های وحشی می‌رود، و در آنجا «کورتس» را، در حالتی که به «الاهه»، و خدای قبایل وحشی بدل شده می‌یابد؛ «کورتس» که با اندیشه ی دعوت وحشیان به «مسیحیت»، سفر خود را آغاز کرده بود، سرانجام به خدایگان، و رئیس رقصندگان، و قربانی‌ کنندگان قبایل وحشی، بدل شده؛ او بارها کوشیده، تا بگریزد، اما وحشیان، او را یافته، و حاضر نمیشوند، «خدای سفید» خود را، از دست بدهند؛ او اینک در حالتی نیمه ‌دیوانه، و در حال مرگ، با «مارلو» روبرو می‌شود؛ «مارلو» می‌کوشد او را راضی کند، تا با او بیاید، اما او دیگر حاضر نیست؛ «مارلو» او را به ‌زحمت، و با زور همراه خویش می‌کند، اما در کشتی، «کورتس» می‌میرد؛ پایان‌بندی داستان، با رقص زنی عریان، از قبایل، و یافتن بسته ی نامه های متعلق به نامزد «کورتس»، از سوی «مارلو»، خوانشگر را، درگیر تردیدهای بزرگ می‌کند؛ «مارلو» می‌رود تا آن نامه‌ها را به آن زن برساند، اما در برابر خود، زنی را می‌یابد، که قادر به ایثار و ایمان و رنج است، و با یاد گم‌شده ‌اش، به زندگی ادامه می‌دهد؛ «مارلو» قادر نیست، حقیقت زندگی، و مرگ «کورتس» را، بیان کند، و تنها به زن اطمینان می‌دهد، که «کورتس» در واپسین دم حیات، به یاد او بوده، و نام او را بر زبان رانده ‌است

بزرگوارانی همچون جنابان آقایان: «صالح حسینی»، «کیومرث پارسای»، «احمد میرعلائی»، «حسن افشار»، و «پرویز داریوش»،‌ به ترجمه ی آثار «جوزف کنراد»؛ به واژه های پارسایی پرداخته‌ اند، کتاب «دل تاریکی»، در سالهای آغازین سده بیستم میلادی ـ سال 1902میلادی ـ نوشته شده، چاپ نخست آن به روایتی در سال 1355هجری خورشیدی، در کشور ما منتشر شده است

نقل از متن «دل تاریکی» نوشته ی «جوزف کنراد»: (یادم هست که یکبار به ناو جنگی­ ای برخوردیم، که دور از ساحل لنگر انداخته بود؛ تو بگو یک آلونک هم آنجا نبود، و ناو جنگی به بوته­ ها توپ شلیک می­کرد؛ معلوم شد که «فرانسوی»­ها در آن دوروبرها، به یکی از جنگ­هاشان سرگرمند؛ پرچم ناو جنگی، همانند لته ­ای شل­ و ول می­افتاد، لوله ­ی توپ­های بلند شش اینچی، از همه جای بدنه ­ی کوتاه ناو، بیرون زده بود، امواج چرب­ و چیلی و پر از لجن، کاهلانه ناو را بالا می­انداخت، و به پایین ولش می­کرد، و دکل­های کوچولوی آنرا نوسان می­داد؛ این ناو در آن بی­کرانگی تهی زمین و آسمان و آب، ایستاده بود، ‌که معلوم نبود برای چه آنجاست، و توی قاره­ ای توپ می­انداخت؛ از یکی از توپ­های شش اینچی، تاپ، گلوله­ ای درمی­رفت، شعله­ ی کوچکی زبانه می­کشید و محو می­شد، ذره­ ای دود سفید ناپدید می­شد، پرتابه­ ی ریزی جیغ خفیفی می­کشید، و هیچ اتفاقی نمی­افتاد، امکان نداشت که اتفاقی بیفتد؛ نشانی از دیوانگی، در این ماجرا بود، و معرکه، حالتی حزن­ آور، و هم خنده ­آور داشت، به گفته­ ی یکی از سرنشینان کشتی هم، که به لحن جدی اطمینانم می­داد اردوگاه بومیان، ‌که آن­ها را دشمن میخواند، جایی پنهان از نظر قرار دارد، این حالت را از بین نبرد)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 05/07/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 04/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
1,028 reviews17.7k followers
April 9, 2023
Kurtz is a modern day Prometheus. He dares to peer upon the hidden Dark Side of the Moon, and All the Heavens then seek revenge upon his startled soul.

And he must Pay.

Until that Gracious Day in some Faraway Future arrives, and the Divine Eagle quits chewing apart his liver.

Until this modern-day Oedipus, now an ancient, cursed soul in faraway Colonus, expiates the last dirty remnants of his crime before the very gods themselves.

And that futureless future day - when the last ‘I’ is dotted and the last ‘T’ is crossed - will be the Last Day, upon which Franz Kafka is certified “safe” to enter the Kingdom by the sleepless Gatekeeper...

And Kurtz’ weary soul is Graced with Pardon and freed, like the rest of the absolved, to drink the healing Draughts of Lethe.

On THAT day we’ll All Forgive... and Forget the Gorgon!

But you know what?

When T.S. Eliot gives his famous spoiler to this short masterpiece in The Wasteland, and wrecks the ending for young readers, it’s No Coincidence that he qualifies that spoiler with the incredibly apt line, “Hieronomo’s mad again!”

For once you wade into the dread waters of Acheron, you see the Furies that will torment you till mercy dawns again.

Don’t hold your breath! As the Hindu sacred books say, endless Kalpas will seem to pass before that glad dawn.

I know what you’re thinking.

Kurtz is like Adam.

And of course ALL Adams, like you and me (and all my negligently disobedient friends!) will see our Edens forever blighted - like our dying planet - or so it will seem to us, since that first Kurtzian day of wrath.

Dante Alighieri once said us poor blokes who pass up a Life of Faith as a kid will have to slowly slog around Mount Purgatory for a hundred painful years before even getting our tickets punched at the door!

Oh, I’m no different.

I didn’t say I believed “loud (and) clear” as a youth.

No, we ALL Refused to “listen as well as we hear... in the living years” of our youth, to the Truth.

That’s right. We did EXACTLY like Adam, believing we’d “be like a god” once we saw through the more inconvenient truths.

And so we continue to run the unforgivingly downward and rapid rails of Perfectionism, or Guilt, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, maybe.

But, you know, there are moments when pure sunlight breaks through our heavily curtained minds...

A child laughs innocently, a bird chirps cheerily, or an old person smiles an incredibly crinkled smile of joy.

Those moments are meant for US - that we may have eyes to see!

But, sooner or later, just like the rest of you - and Mr. Kurtz - we have to Face the Face that Kills.

And tuck the Golden Moments under our belt for the Next Time, in yet another stripping bare of our conscience -

Yes - Until, in fact, the Far-off Day, Kalpas and Kalpas from hence, of our Final Heavenly “Shantih.”

In blessed Forgiveness.
Profile Image for Megha.
79 reviews1,092 followers
March 21, 2009

It was a breathtaking read. There are few books which make such a powerful impression as 'Heart of darkness' does. Written more than a century ago, the book and its undying theme hold just as much significance even today. Intense and compelling, it looks into the darkest recesses of human nature. Conrad takes the reader through a horrific tale in a very gripping voice.

I couldn't say enough about Conrad's mastery of prose. Not a single word is out of place. Among several things, I liked Marlow expressing his difficulty in sharing his experiences with his listeners and his comments on insignificance of some of the dialogue exchanged aloud between him and Kurtz. The bond between the two was much deeper. Whatever words he uses to describe them, no one can really understand in full measure what he had been through. In Marlow's words:

". . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream--alone. . . ."

This was the first time I read this book which doesn't seem enough to fathom its profound meaning and all the symbolism. It deserves multiple reads.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,190 reviews1,812 followers
January 23, 2023


Conrad arrivò nel Congo nel 1890 come tanti altri europei alla ricerca di un lavoro, di un’occasione di crescita economica e professionale, attratto dalle panzane che il re del Belgio, Leopoldo II, era riuscito a spacciare per verità, e cioè che in quella (immensa) parte dell’Africa i bianchi stessero cercando di contrastare e arrestare il commercio degli schiavi condotto dagli “arabi”.

Arabi mercanti di schiavi neri, principalmente nell’Africa dell’Est, ma non solo.

Conrad voleva diventare capitano di marina e sperava che l’esperienza africana avrebbe comportato anche il raggiungimento di quel grado militare.

Si trovò davanti una realtà ben diversa da quella che si aspettava: i bianchi in Congo era schiavisti come e più degli “arabi” – ignoravano il rispetto dei più elementari diritti umani – trattavano i locali come materia prima, forza lavoro, bestie da soma – erano crudeli, rapaci, volgari, prepotenti, accecati dal loro potere, violenti, stupratori, assassini, torturatori.

Mozzare mani e piedi era pratica punitiva frequente.

In realtà erano molto di più, erano autentici genocidari: si calcola che tra il 1890 e il 1905, sempre sotto il dominio belga, la popolazione del Congo si sia ridotta di circa 8/10 milioni di persone. Tutte morte: in nome della “civiltà”, della conquista – tutte morte in nome dell’avorio e della gomma.

Conrad rimase colpito e stordito, e da qui è nato questo magnifico libro, probabilmente il romanzo breve in lingua inglese più tradotto e ristampato.

Il colonello Kurtz impersonato da Marlon Brando.

Marlow è l’alter ego dello stesso Conrad che risalì il fiume Congo – e Kurtz impersona alcuni dei peggiori servitori del Belgio, non necessariamente nati in quel paese, tutti passati alla storia per la crudeltà e il numero di morti (tale Léon Rom usava adornare il suo giardino con le teste degli africani decapitati per punizione conficcate in paletti proprio come nel libro fa Kurtz).
Cuore di tenebra è prima di tutto questo: un atto d’accusa del genocidio che i belgi hanno commesso in Congo.
Poi, col tempo, è diventato un inno contro la violenza umana in generale, contro l’imperialismo (vedi l’interpretazione datane da Coppola in ���Apocalypse Now”).

Arbasino disse che alla fine del film di Coppola chiunque avrebbe capito che la guerra è un magnifico sballo. Nonostante la deliziosa ironia del grande di Voghera, “Apocalypse Now” rimane un capolavoro.

Ma Conrad all’imperialismo credeva, purché di marca britannica, fino al punto di investire i suoi risparmi in una miniera d’oro vicino a Johannesburg (quindi, sotto controllo inglese – l’imperialismo inglese andava benissimo, era sinonimo di civiltà e progresso).
In fondo in queste pagine i personaggi di colore non fanno una gran figura, più che parlare, cantano, grugniscono, emettono suoni.
In fondo il razzismo vittoriano (quindi di stampo inglese) in queste pagine si sente eccome.

Kurtz è un magnifico villain: non è solo un assassino e torturatore, ma anche un intellettuale che si diletta di pittura, di poesia, di giornalismo, di teoria e pensiero (Sterminate tutti questi bruti!), confermando con penna e inchiostro la conquista compiuta con fucile e mitragliatore.

Cuore di tenebra.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,100 reviews7,187 followers
July 28, 2023
A re-read for me from many years ago. We all know the basic story. A small river steamship captain, Charles Marlow, commands a ferryboat up the Congo River (as did the author). Marlow, like many others in the story, has become fascinated with a guy named Kurtz, a mythologized, legendary trader of ivory who lives in the interior and has ‘gone native,’ as the expression goes.


There are thousands of reviews out there, so I will just add my two cents to the debate about the meaning and value of the book.

We see the miserable conditions the native peoples live in – they are essentially enslaved - and we read passages that are racist. A well-known critic of the book is the famous Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, author of many books set in Africa, most notably, Things Fall Apart. Achebe basically said the book is a typical work of 19th-century racist colonialism and we should stop considering it a classic and stop assigning it in college courses.

And yet the book is also fundamentally a critique of the colonial system, highlighting the brutality, materialism, greed and inhumanity of the Europeans. In a way, it’s about man’s inhumanity to man and the common flaws of humanity that we all share in. So in that sense, Conrad was relatively ‘woke’ for his time (published in 1899) and the book helped push the needle forward on the scale of enlightenment.

I personally believe that regardless of how ‘woke’ we think we are, we all engage in things, hold beliefs, say and write things that will shock our grandchildren. “How could he think that???”

I’ll let Harold Bloom have the last word. He wrote that Heart of Darkness had been analyzed more than any other work of literature that is studied in universities and colleges, and he attributed this to Conrad's "unique propensity for ambiguity." Learning about ambiguity is a good thing.


Top photo from warontherocks.com
Polish-English novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) from litariness.org

[Edited 7/28/23]
August 10, 2017
«Φρίκη, φρίκη »
«Εξολοθρεύσατε όλα τα κτήνη!»

Στην καρδιά του σκότους και στον αφηγητή της (Μάρλοου),το νόημα της ιστορίας δεν βρίσκεται σε καμία περίπτωση μέσα στον πυρήνα της,αλλά απ’έξω, «θαρρείς και το νόημα περιβάλει την ιστορία...».

Αυτό το βιβλίο είναι μια ασύλληπτη τελετουργία, μια δαιμονική πνευματικά μύηση, μια καταληψία.

Η καρδιά του σκότους μπορεί να έχει πολλές ερμηνείες και είναι πολύ φυσικό αφού βρίθει εικόνων και συναισθημάτων.

Όλη η ουσία του βιβλίου επικεντρώνεται στην εμπειρία ενός ναυτικού (Μάρλοου)που συνειδητά επιλέγει να ταξιδέψει στην Αφρική -καταλήγοντας στην καρδιά του σκότους- ενώ συνήθως ταξίδευε στην Ανατολή.

Έτσι ξεκινάει το ταξίδι του Μάρλοου προς το Κονγκό και γίνεται τόσο τραυματικό και φοβερό που μπορεί να θεωρηθεί το πέρασμα του προς την ωριμότητα.

Η αφήγηση του είναι ένα γλαφυρό ονειροπόλημα με πολλούς αναχρονισμούς και αναμνήσεις.
Καθισμένος μέσα στο αγκυροβολημένο σκάφος Νέλλη στις εκβολές του Τάμεση συναντάει το παρελθόν του και το είναι του στην αφρικανική εμπειρία με σκοπό να γνωρίσει τον κ. Κούρτς,τον ηγέτη όλων των συμβολισμών...

Η ονειροπόληση του Μάρλοου είναι μια συνταρακτική αίσθηση για τον αναγνώστη. Ισορροπεί ανάμεσα στο αισθητικό και το επιστημονικό. Το απαλό όνειρο και την καυστική ειρωνεία. Τα συμβολικά γεγονότα και το αιχμηρό συναίσθημα του παραλόγου που καταλήγει μακάβριο και φρικιαστικό.

Φτάνοντας στην Αφρική και πριν ακόμα συναντήσει τη «μορφή» (κ. Κούρτς) έχει κάνει μια κανονική κατάβαση στην άβυσσο.

Εδώ αρχίζει ο Άδης της αποικιοκρατίας.
Μια κόλαση απο βασανισμένα κορμιά,σακατεμένα απο την πείνα και τη δυσεντερία. Τρυπημένα απο σφαίρες ή λόγχες,αλυσοδεμένα και δαρμένα αλύπητα.
Αποκεφαλισμένα σώματα ιθαγενών,θυσιασμένα στο βωμό κάποιων ακατονόμαστων λειτουργιών. Εξυπηρετούν βεβαίως τη φρικαλεότητα των αποικιοκρατών στο Κονγκό.

Κάπου εδώ μπαίνουμε στην σκληρή κοινωνία των αποίκων και την άσπονδη εκμετάλλευση των μαύρων με τόσο μακάβριες λεπτομέρειες που ο αναγνώστης σίγουρα σφίγγει τα χείλη να μην βγάλει και την ψυχή του μαζί με τον αναστεναγμό οργής και θλίψης.

Προχωράμε μέσα στην πυκνή ζούγκλα των μαύρων δαιμόνων που φοβούνται και επιτίθενται.
Η άβυσσος είναι το πολύ σκοτάδι, το απόλυτο σκοτάδι που κάνει τη διαφορά ανάμεσα στους αποίκους και την κερδοσκοπική τους λεηλασία και σε αυτούς που υπομένουν τα πάνδεινα για την τιμή του ελεφαντόδοντου.

Αιώνες απάτης και φθοράς ανάμεσα στους «πολιτισμένους» και τους «πρωτόγονους».
Το χάσμα των υποταγμένων, η φυλετική ανωτερότητα και η γεύση του θανάτου: ΕΞΟΛΟΘΡΕΥΣΑΤΕ ΟΛΑ ΤΑ ΚΤΗΝΗ. Η τελική λύση..!

Ευτυχισμένοι οι άνθρωποι που ψάχνουν την αλήθεια τους και δεν τη βρίσκουν ή την κρατάνε για τον εαυτό τους.
Η καρδιά του σκότους είναι μια εναλλαγή ανάμεσα στο φως και το σκοτάδι, το καλό και το κακό,την άγνοια και τη γνώση,το πνεύμα και το σκοταδισμό, τον Άνθρωπο και το Κτήνος που θεωρείται ανώτερο λόγω φυλής και χρώματος αλλά δεν το αντέχει.

Σε μια κόλαση γεμάτη «τρελές ψυχές»,οι θεωρητικά ανώτεροι άνθρωποι σε σχέση με τους κατώτερους μαύρους προσκυνητές ματώνουν την πνευματική τους υγεία.
Δεν αντέχουν τη νομοτέλεια της φύσης, τους απογυμνώνει τους πανικοβάλλει. Προτιμούν την ψευδαίσθηση της στεριάς τους και του πολιτισμού τους.

Η Καρδιά του Σκότους είναι μια μέθεξη.

Ένα αριστούργημα που πιστεύει στην φαντασία και την πράξη. Που πραγματεύεται-πέρα απο κάθε ματαιότητα που μας περιβάλλει- την ανθρώπινη μοίρα και το φορτίο του καθενός να ανακαλύψει τους στόχους του, να θέσει τους κανόνες για την επιτυχία και να τους ακολουθήσει.

*Συστήνεται με αιρετική επιφύλαξη σε αυστηρούς αναγνώστες χωρίς σκληράδα και σε δαιμονικά δικτυωμένους ονειροπόλους.


Καλή ανάγνωση!!

Πολλούς ασπασμούς!!
Profile Image for Gaurav.
170 reviews1,214 followers
May 23, 2021
Soul! If anybody ever struggled with a soul, I am the man. And I wasn’t arguing with a lunatic either. Believe me or not, his intelligence was perfectly clear- concentrated, it is true, upon himself with horrible intensity, yet clear; and therein was my only chance- barring, of course, the killing him there and then, which wasn’t so good, on account of unavoidable noise

Human heart of full of darkness, but is humanity capable of expressing it fully? Can the wilderness of humanity be disseminated through its existence? Are ‘civilized’ people any different from those who are labeled as ‘savages? Does civilization take humanity away from the path of evolution whose milestones are empathy and compassion? Does the path of human evolution necessarily pass through river of power, imperialism which is built upon under-currents of darkness, racism, butchery and savagery? Does the gene responsible for human coloration also underline the superiority of human beings? The sombre snake of darkness, whose head is a sea of human wilderness, whose body runs through various expressions of human wilderness, if uncoiled it will spit out the abashed, ferocious, dingy poisons of humanity, which may send a feeling of harrowing terror if it comes face-to-face with humanity. Is mother Nature capable of enduring the possessions which humanity asserted through its evolution. Could humanity withstand itself on the first hand? Is humanity storing enough to deny to fall into trap of its own avarices and gluttony- the darkness it contains in itself? Do we fall into the void—do we drown or come out with a stronger sense of self?” These are the questions raised by Joseph Conrad through this novella which portrays the darkest history of human existence.

Though the novella maybe not from the contemporary world but it remains as relevant today as it was then, which could be said a timeless harrowing beauty. The book has dense imagery and emotions which has the ability to surprise and shock the reader simultaneously. It is said to be an essential starting point of modernism in English literature as Conrad as its literary experiments, themes could be interpreted in different ways, Conrad is said to bring his non-English sensibilities to English literature. The novella centers on the efforts of Marlow, Conrad's alter ego, to travel up an unnamed African river on behalf of his employer in order to bring back a rogue ivory trader, Mr Kurtz. Kurtz's reputation precedes him: "He is a prodigy… an emissary of pity and science and progress." Yet as Marlow gets closer to Kurtz, there is the growing suggestion that he has in some way become corrupted and descended into savagery.

His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines.

Mr. Kurtz is depicted as a puzzle, a 'widespread virtuoso', who had been sending enormous measure of ivory from the hearts of this territory to the base station while other station aces were wallowing, when they were not passing on, or diverting feeble from the unfriendly condition. The whole campaign is much for one reason, that is of discovering Mr. Kurtz; while for Marlow - to converse with this riddle is the motivation behind this trial. Marlow becomes loyal to Kurtz, even to the dead Kurtz, and there seems to be little reason in it other than that he sympathized with Kurtz and at the same time loathed the general white lot present with him, whom he refers to as the ‘pilgrims’, seekers of ivory.

The shad of the original Kurtz frequented the bedside of the hollow sham, whose fate it was to be buried presently in the mould of primeval earth. But both the diabolic love and the unearthly hate of the mysterious it had penetrated fought for the possession of that soul satiated with primitive emotions, avid of lying fame, of sham distinction, of all the appearances of the success and power.

The book seems to suggest that we are not able to understand the darkness that has affected Kurtz's soul—certainly not without understanding what he has been through in the jungle. Taking Marlow's point of view, we glimpse from the outside what has changed Kurtz so irrevocably from the European man of sophistication to something far more frightening. As if to demonstrate this, Conrad lets us view Kurtz on his deathbed. In the final moments of his life, Kurtz is in a fever. Even so, he seems to see something that we cannot. Staring at himself he can only mutter, "The horror! The horror!"

The darkness of the civilized humanity wherein a supposedly noble white man, who entered the jungles of Africa as a missionary of science, advancement and progress, however, during the course of his stay there, his inner self got better of him and he turned into a white tyrant, the tyranny of him is vicious and catastrophic, in whose comparison the barbarism of natives is nothing. In Kurtz, the alleged benevolence of colonialism has flowered into criminality. Marlow’s voyage from Europe to Africa and then upriver to Kurtz’s Inner Station is a revelation of the squalors and disasters of the colonial “mission”, staring at his own self, abashed and ashamed, Kurtz could only say- “The horror! The horror!; as if it’s the horror to eventually succumb to his real and vile self, the horror to realize that ideals of man could not sustain the vagaries of avarices of humanity and humanity finds itself eventually stained with its own murder. In Marlow’s mind, a journey back to the beginning of creation, when nature reigned exuberant and unrestrained, and a trip figuratively down as well, through the levels of the self to repressed and unlawful desires.

Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision- he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:
“The horror! The horror!”

The prose of the novella is like a fresh wave as it contains some of the most fantastic use of language in English literature. The roots of Poland, the journey through France and South America as a seaman had influenced his style to have a wonderfully authentic colloquialism. We also see a style that is remarkably poetic for a prose work. More than a novel, the work is like an extended symbolic poem, affecting the reader with the breadths of its ideas as well as the beauty of its words. One may initially feel uncomfortable at the prose of Conrad but after braving through a few pages, the reader would certainly fell under Conrad’s spell.

Perhaps it was an impulse of unconscious loyalty, or the fulfilment of one of those ironic necessities that lurk in the facts of human existence. I don’t know. I can’t tell. But I went.

It may be said with authority that Heart of Darkness is a masterfully constructed parable on human nature, how does humanity in general behaves when tested under arduous circumstances. Despite his protestations, this is undeniably an invaluable historical document offering a glimpse into the horrific human consequences of the imperial powers' scramble for Africa as much as it is a compelling tale. As put up by Conrad himself that savagery is inherent in all of us, however civilized we may become, it is a brief interlude between innumerable centuries of darkness and the darkness yet to come.

Perhaps! I like to think my summing up would not have been a word of careless contempt. Better his cry- much better. It was an affirmation, a moral victory paid for by innumerable defeats, by abominable terrors, by abominable satisfactions. But it was a victory! That is why I have remained loyal to Kurtz to the last, and even beyond, when a long time after I heard once more, not his own voice, but the echo of his magnificent eloquence thrown to me from a soul as translucently pure as a cliff of crystal.
Profile Image for Riku Sayuj.
656 reviews7,099 followers
April 6, 2015

Revisiting The Heart of Darkness

After passing past that Castle of Ego,

Laying siege on the very borders of Mind,

We entered the vast and bristling forests,

Of that strange, strange land, that Id,

Which doth divide the knowing, waking,

From the land of dreaming, unknowing.

But this way is much too hard to follow;

And is harder even to describe to you:

We are more likely here to perish,

Here in these vast, dense hinterlands;

For these woods that we see arrayed,

Has never previously been crossed,

By mortal men or by Gods before,

Except by the Duke, on his missions,

To plunder and to subjugate.

He had sliced a path so wide and true,

For himself and his army vast,

Marking along the trees as he trode,

Deeper and deeper into these woods,

Holding fast to his own marks,

And to the crude compasses of his day,

Wary of the beasts and birds,

And of dark shadows of the serpents,

And the importunities of bugs and bites.

Vexed he was by silence and dark,

But angered more by lonely shrieks.

So we move on in this path of old;

Those old trees that the Duke had marked,

Now but marshy ground to mire our carts,

When will we cross these woods so dark,

And reach the sparkle at the other end?

That river which we truly seek,

That drowned the Duke and freed the Mind:

That river so cool, called Sanity.
Profile Image for Adina .
888 reviews3,524 followers
September 4, 2019
Later edit: I've thought about this book lately and I decided that it deserves more than 2* so 3* it is.

A beautifully written dark ramble.

Do not be fooled by the fact that this book is short. It is actually very dense, hard to read, with long paragraphs and endless metaphors. Even the rare dialog was inserted in a big, bulky paragraph.

I found it strenuous to follow the line of the story. The author was jumping from one idea to the next in the blink of an eye and the prose was so full of pompous words that I was lost among them like in the darkness of the deep, unreal jungle he was describing.

Here's an example:

“It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream--making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams...No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream-alone...”

I could feel the suffocating atmosphere of the book and I understood the main metaphor which is very true. People, no matter of skin's color can become cruel and evil in certain circumstances.
Profile Image for J.G. Keely.
546 reviews10.2k followers
December 14, 2009
Like contemporaries Haggard and Melville, Joseph Conrad lived the adventures he wrote. He left his native Ukraine to escape the political persecution of his family and became a merchant marine in France, sailing to the West Indies and gun-running for a failed Spanish coup. Soon after, he learned English and became a british citizen, eventually attaining the position of Master Mariner. Had his story ended there, he might have become merely a footnote in history: a successful seaman and minor writer of romantic adventures.

Instead, he took a fateful steamship voyage into deepest Africa, an experience which forever changed him. Like the protagonist of the book which his journey inspired, Conrad found horror deep in the jungles. He witnessed the cruel depth of mankind, and not in the barbaric tribes, but in the colonial whites who ruled them. Far from civilization or law, these men became utter tyrants, mad with power and answerable to no one.

Having lived under repressive colonial forces in his own troubled Ukraine, Conrad's deconstruction of this human subjugation was both sympathetic and satirical. Apparently unable to detect Conrad's sarcasm, Chinua Achebe accused him of the most profound racism. Doubtless, he was tired of his continent being defined in literature by an outsider. Why Achebe then chose to write his own, much more hopeless, racist, and sarcastic book in an attempt to replace Conrad's, it is difficult to say.

When Conrad finally emerged from Africa, he was a different man. He said of the experience that it forced him to cease simply living, like an animal might; instead he found himself saddled with a profound self-awareness. As any writer can tell you, only two things issue from inescapable self-awareness: pain and art.

Conrad's writings took a darker turn, resulting in his most contentious and influential work, 'The Heart of Darkness'. While his other stories are not without death and pain, they tend towards lighter fare, none quite reaching its inexorable brooding. Doubtless this is why it garners the most attention, dealing as it does with messy issues like race, nation, and death. The author's literary catharsis leaves us raw and shocked, but then it was always Cornad's intention to use writing as a means to share real experiences with his reader.

Though often compared to other adventure fiction of the era, such as Stevenson's or Haggard's, like Melville, Conrad transcends his genre. His tight pacing and evocative, poetic prose help to elevate all of his stories, and here, his language is bolstered by an overriding, passionate, personal message. There is an ever-present thread of philosophy throughout all of Conrad's works, but rarely is it as naked and powerful.

In some ways, the great interest paid to 'Heart of Darkness' is unfortunate, as it tends to ignore the rest of his varied and masterfully-constructed oeuvre, but the vast swathes praise and criticism are not misplaced: it is a Great Book.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,939 reviews603 followers
January 20, 2023
To reach hell is to follow the path of Joseph Conrad. This path we follow, or we leave it—no other choice. The horizon of darkness weaves along the water toward the source of the Congo River. "Watching a ship off the coast is like thinking about a riddle." Here is the invitation to this voyage. Going up a river is going back in time, the time of the first man in each of us. The pulsations of the river banks revive the primary impulses of men. Torpor, savagery, "tiresome pilgrimage among the beginnings of a nightmare." Go deeper; enter the heart of darkness. Is hell a space where we surrender ourselves to deliver the one who lives in us? Can darkness infect the hearts of those who pass through it? Or do we carry this germ forever and ever in us?
We live it or destroy it; there is no other choice.
Profile Image for Leslie.
332 reviews188 followers
June 18, 2008
I know as an English major I am supposed to find this work brilliant and important, but I just don't. I hate it. I hated it the first time I read it, the second time I read it, AND the third time I read it.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,190 reviews1,812 followers
January 5, 2020

Conrad arrivò nel Congo nel 1890 come tanti altri europei alla ricerca di un lavoro, di un’occasione di crescita economica e professionale, attratto dalle panzane che il re del Belgio, Leopoldo II, era riuscito a spacciare per verità, e cioè che in quella (immensa) parte dell’Africa i bianchi stessero cercando di contrastare e arrestare il commercio degli schiavi condotto dagli “arabi”.

Conrad voleva diventare capitano di marina e sperava che l’esperienza africana avrebbe comportato anche il raggiungimento di quel grado militare.

Si trovò davanti una realtà ben diversa da quella che si aspettava: i bianchi in Congo era schiavisti come e più degli “arabi” – ignoravano il rispetto dei più elementari diritti umani – trattavano i locali come materia prima, forza lavoro, bestie da soma – erano crudeli, rapaci, volgari, prepotenti, accecati dal loro potere, violenti, stupratori, assassini, torturatori.

Immagini di ragazzini congolesi mutilati per non aver raccolto la quota stabilita di gomma durante il regime di Leopoldo II.

In realtà erano molto di più, erano autentici genocidari: si calcola che tra il 1890 e il 1905, sempre sotto il dominio belga, la popolazione del Congo si sia ridotta di circa 8/10 milioni di persone. Tutte morte: in nome della “civiltà”, della conquista – tutte morte in nome dell’avorio e della gomma.

Conrad rimase colpito e stordito, e da qui è nato questo magnifico libro, probabilmente il romanzo breve in lingua inglese più tradotto e ristampato.

Marlow è l’alter ego dello stesso Conrad che risalì il fiume Congo – e Kurtz impersona alcuni dei peggiori servitori del Belgio, non necessariamente nati in quel paese, tutti passati alla storia per la crudeltà e il numero di morti (tale Léon Rom usava adornare il suo giardino con le teste degli africani decapitati per punizione conficcate in paletti proprio come nel libro fa Kurtz).
Cuore di tenebra è prima di tutto questo: un atto d’accusa del genocidio che i belgi hanno commesso in Congo.
Poi, col tempo, è diventato un inno contro la violenza umana in generale, contro l’imperialismo (vedi l’interpretazione datane da Coppola in “Apocalypse Now”).

Ma Conrad all’imperialismo credeva, purché di marca britannica, fino al punto di investire i suoi risparmi in una miniera d’oro vicino a Johannesburg (quindi, sotto controllo inglese – l’imperialismo inglese andava benissimo, era sinonimo di civiltà e progresso).
In fondo in queste pagine i personaggi di colore non fanno una gran figura, più che parlare, cantano, grugniscono, emettono suoni.
In fondo il razzismo vittoriano (quindi di stampo inglese) in queste pagine si sente eccome.

Kurtz è un magnifico villain: non è solo un assassino e torturatore, ma anche un intellettuale che si diletta di pittura, di poesia, di giornalismo, di teoria e pensiero (Sterminate tutti questi bruti!), confermando con penna e inchiostro la conquista compiuta con fucile e mitragliatore.

Profile Image for Rakhi Dalal.
212 reviews1,438 followers
February 24, 2014
“ Mistah Kurtz. He dead.”
-T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

He came, he saw, he conquered – and then he succumbed and died. Mistah Kurtz. An enigma, who ultimately came to signify the gloomy reality of sin, which closely lurks in the minds of mortal beings and keeps ready to pounce upon the heart and to sink it into darkness at the mere hint of viciousness. Which impatiently awaits the weak moments of vanity, false notions and fickleness to take over control and let humanity die a grief death of hopelessness; A sad departure which is at once trivial and grave. Trivial, for an opportunity wasted and grave, for the fear it raise.

Conrad once said, “The temporal world rests on a few very simple ideas; so simple that they must be as old as the hills. It rests notably on the idea of fidelity.”He believed that evil lies in every man and constant, unsparing efforts have to be made to keep it from taking over control. It seems difficult to interpret this context of evil. But on my part, I want to believe that that we are more likely to fall victim to our own follies. As a dear friend once said, “Evil is nothing but an excuse on the part of human beings to escape their own responsibility for the results of their own malevolence.”

Our complex minds, subjected to temptations of our own whims, fancies, lust, greed and false notions of superiority, are prone to forgetting these simple ideas and hence, taken over control by darkness, which only leaves its victim when it succeeds in defeating the very essence of being. It renders the mind hollow and catches one totally unaware by its final verdict. In the words of T.S. Eliot:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Heart of Darkness, the novella by Joseph Conrad, is essentially a multi-layered narrative. On the surface it is the adventurous story of Marlow’s search for Kurtz, who for him is a living legend. On one hand it is also a peek into the unconscious of man where darkness resides silently, and on the other, it also brings to mind the glimpses of Dante’s Inferno i.e. the descent to hell. In a very powerful manner, Conrad lays before us the story evoking subjective impressions, as the characters of his story are obscure and their tales are only half-told. Be it Kurtz, Marlow or his native help. Marlow’s search for Kurtz in itself enfolds two interpretations for me. Is it only a search for a company employee who is sick and needs to be hospitalized? Or could it be the search of a man for his ideals? Ideals, which might assure his beliefs?

For Marlow, Kurtz is an enigma, a well- intentioned man who is engaged in the cause of civilizing the natives while still sending maximum ivory to the Company. He becomes perplexed when he learns about the savage ways in which Kurtz engaged himself, like killing people and hanging their heads outside his hut. Kurtz came to the place with good intensions, but being with natives for long, he couldn’t restrain himself and succumb to their ways of life. Ways from which he could never again come out. Dying Kurtz told Marlow that his life had come to nothing and his last words to Marlow were “The horror! The horror!”

These last words send a chill down the spine and make one wonder how helpless a man can become in the trap of his own vice. The only way to evade this cage is to keep guard of one’s thoughts and to cling to the values of good. Simple ideas which are the toughest to follow.
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 72 books51.7k followers
March 22, 2023
I read this a long time ago, and then again this weekend, and realised that I remembered maybe 5% of it. It's perhaps not that surprising because the existential meandering dominates the actual events, and many of the those events involve lying around being too hot, too sweaty, and too sick, just waiting. That's unfair - events do unfold, characters are met, unpleasantness witnessed, at at the creshendo, blood is spilled. The pace, however, is slow. Nineteenth century slow. Dickens sprints by comparison. Each moment of emotion and contemplation is picked apart, over-written, beaten into submission with $100 words (inflation adjusted).

Two things save this from being discarded within pages and perhaps (along with academia's love affair and inclusion on ten thousand secondary school English curricula) explain its longevity. Firstly, if you forgive the overblown language that is perhaps a sign of his times more than anything, Conrad has a rare eye for characterisation and description. He 'sees' and manages to share, delivering, when he chooses to, whole people with a handful of lines. Secondly, the heart of the heart... of darkness is a mystery that obsesses the narrator and starts to compel the reader. Like our narrator steaming his way upriver into the unknown, we want to meet Kurtz, to find out what it is about this man that's so extraordinary.

In the end, like anything that is built up and built up again, Kurtz is a let down, but somehow Conrad saves it with the man's last words. Another mystery left for the reader and one that's kept people reading the work for a hundred years.

3.5 stars from me - I can appreciate its worth, but I wasn't enraptured.

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Profile Image for Piyangie.
529 reviews489 followers
July 20, 2022
Have you ever come across a book that you like, despite its dark and disturbing contents? It's a strange feeling. But Heart of Darkness proves that it is possible. The main contributing factor to this possibility is undoubtedly Conrad's beautiful prose. It is rich, passionate, and dramatic. With his beautiful prose, Conrad exposes various themes, and although I could not fathom all of them fully, I was enchanted by what he wrote (if that makes any sense).

The story is about an adventure that a sailor named Charles Marlow had had when he was working as a captain on a steamboat for an Ivory Trading Company. He narrates his adventure to his fellow sailors on board a ship called "Nellie" while it is anchored on River Thames. Through the adventure of Marlow, Conrad brings out many issues to light: Slavery, civilization, the destruction of nature by human conduct, and above all, human nature.

Out of all these themes, what caught my attention and kept me engaged with this reading is Conrad's psychological presentation of human nature. He exposes the greed, ambition, love for power, and recognition that humans crave, which are well stored in the dark corners of their hearts. Conrad takes the reader through a journey to the dark wilderness in the African region, but at the same time, he takes the reader towards the darkness of the human heart. I'm no literary scholar, but I feel that that is what Conrad was after - the darkness of the human heart in this "civilized" society. Are we civilized after all? That is a question I felt that the author seeks an answer for through and through.

This novella is more of a philosophical account than an adventure story. The underlying message sent is deep and powerful. His beautiful prose and elaborate writing are compensation enough for its dark and disturbing contents.
Profile Image for Laysee.
518 reviews250 followers
February 3, 2011
The Heart of Darkness is a slim novel that belies the immense profundity it reveals about human nature. I re-read it after many years and understood again why it left me sober, tearful and broken when the last page was turned. Marlow, the seaman narrator, told the story of his journey into the heart of the African interior and his encounter with the natives and most notably, Kurtz, the ivory agent, a much revered white man. To me, the journey into the heart of darkness is the unraveling of what is inscrutably at the core of human nature.

One of the most dominant themes is the human need to dream. Conrad said it well, “We live, as we dream – alone.” A dream has an energizing quality that propels the way forward. It has an all-consuming life of its own. Yet for better or worse, it is an illusion that keeps a man alive. Marlow, newly appointed as skipper of a steamboat, was drawn by an alluring dream – to follow the river like “a silly bird” to the “lure of a snake”, to a destination that was to become for him the heart of darkness. The sinister nature of this dream was suggested by the powerful associations with death early in Marlow’s journey: his arrival at the white sepulchre city, the decaying rot of a murdered captain, greetings by two black hens and two women knitting black wool. Perhaps, the most poignant depiction of the false redemptive power of a dream was in Kurtz’s beloved, “My Intended”. She saw in Kurtz the embodiment of inspiration and goodness, the sum total of all her happiness. Her quest to Marlow for Kurtz’s last words was heartbreaking. Would the truth have saved her?

Perhaps, another theme is deception. Conrad successfully built suspense surrounding Kurtz, the gifted ivory trader. Kurtz was portrayed as larger than life and invested with demi-god status. He was the Voice to be heeded. Yet, Kurtz’s gift of expression was described as "the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness." Kurtz was in fact a ruthless ivory vampire who plundered the natives. Interestingly too, Marlow’s first glimpse of Kurtz was incongruently, a fragile wisp of a dying man. Conrad let it be known Kurtz was “hollow at the core”. Kurtz’s evil was symbolized by the human heads drying on staves outside his windows. Yet, the seduction of Kurtz’s power was so strong that the natives were grossly deluded even when they were victims of his rapacious savagery.

Lastly, there is the unmistakable theme of death. The map that guided Marlow into the interior revealed a yellow patch that was described as “dead in the centre”. The ictus of the heart of darkness is death. Life is but a riddle. No pathos is more eloquent than in Kurtz's final words, "The horror! The horror!"

Conrad’s prose may not be immediately accessible but it is finely wrought. There is much one can relish in the palpable beauty of the African jungle rendered in hushed, almost hallowed tones. There is also subtle humor that lifts the looming shades of darkness that close in gradually as the story unfolds. Read this novella. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Fernando.
684 reviews1,128 followers
November 1, 2022
"Ni tiene confines el infierno ni se circunscribe a un solo lugar: sino que allí donde estemos estará el infierno. Y donde esté el infierno, allí siempre estaremos." Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus

Hacía más de tres años que había leído este libro y en su primera lectura no me gustó. Simplemente me pareció sin dirección alguna, algo abstracto y divagante.
Bueno, efectivamente me equivoqué. Puede que tal vez en aquel tiempo yo no había leído tantos clásicos como ahora ni tenía tampoco tan agudizada la capacidad de analizar un texto para elaborar una reseña, por eso sostengo que tanta lectura me hizo bien para volver a leer “El corazón de las tinieblas” y realmente conseguir plasmar otra visión sobre esta novela tan particular.
El relato de Charlie Marlow es en cierta forma una extensión de las propias experiencias de Joseph Conrad en el África, más precisamente en el Congo belga durante sus años de marino mercante.
Todo lo vivido le serviría para plasmar lo que narra en este libro con el agregado de permitirse soltarse y cambiar ciertos aspectos de lo que él mismo vio para darle mayor profundidad y deatar mayores elementos de ficción en la historia que nos cuenta.
A medida que Marlow comienza a navegar en un vapor remontando río arriba para llegar a Kurtz, un enigmático hombre a cargo de la explotación y el comercio del marfil terminará experimentando su propio Descenso ad ínferos de la misma manera que Ulises o Eneas o el mismísimo Dante con la salvedad de que Marlow no tendrá ningún Virgilio para guiarlo en ese, su infierno personal y no elegido, sino impuesto por el azar de su incierta travesía.
Es también digno de destacar el profundo enfoque de introspección psicológica que Conrad le imprime al personaje de Marlow, puesto que con el correr de las páginas, comenzará este a desmoronarse mentalmente a partir de su expedición.
Por otro lado, tenemos la figura fantasmal y omnipresente de Kurtz, ese hombre desconocido para Marlow que comenzará a tener una influencia total en él para terminar arrastrándolo a un colapso inevitable.
Es que en cierto modo, Kurtz representa lo ominoso, lo poderoso y su imagen desconocida generará tanto curiosidad como un temor inherente en Marlow y esos dos elementos lo empujarán hasta querer llegar a conocer a Kurtz a toda costa.
Kurtz, durante gran parte de esta novela oficia en cierto modo, con su presencia lejana y opresiva de la misma manera que Moby Dick sobre la tripulación del Pequod en la novela de Herman Melville, ya que todos saben que el inmenso leviatán está allí, oculto, merodeando y al acecho y con el mismo efecto logra alterar los nervios de Marlow hasta que llegue el momento indicado y se enfrenten cara a cara.
Creo también que de la misma manera, la jungla, con su poderosa atracción enloquece a Marlow. Todos esos peligros están allí, latentes y le sofocan, apenas le permiten descansar. Cualquiera puede ser el momento en que los seres primitivos que pueblan la selva, arrasen con todo y Marlow lo sabe, por eso debe estar alerta, con los nervios crispados ante el peligro latente.
La novela roza también distintos aspectos relacionados a la esclavitud, el comercio ilegal de marfil y la piratería más cruenta ejercida en el continente africano durante el siglo XIX, más precisamente por Bélgica en el África. Dichas prácticas, hoy prohibidas eran moneda corriente para los conquistadores anglosajones que devastaron el continente de ébano.
Habiendo releído la novela descubro su poder de atracción, incertidumbre y curiosidad que genera tanto en el personaje principal como en el lector y es este el mejor elemento del que dispone Conrad para mantenerlo a uno atento a la lectura.
Dice Marlow en un pasaje de la novela: "Quizá toda la sabiduría, toda la verdad y toda la sinceridad están contenidas en ese lapso inapreciable de tiempo en el que cruzamos el umbral de lo invisible. ¡Tal vez!"
Indudablemente, Marlow cruzó el umbral hacia su propio infierno personal y Joseph Conrad lo transformó en un relato convincente.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,442 followers
December 22, 2021
(3, 5) Prin 2003, am căzut peste o afirmație a lui Borges dintr-un prolog adunat în Biblioteca personală: „Inima întunericului este, poate, cea mai intensă povestire născocită de închipuirea omenească”. Afirmația m-a făcut curios.

Nu auzisem de această povestire. Mi-am procurat o traducere și am citit-o aproape imediat. Povestirea mi-a adus aminte de toate coborîrile la iad din istoria literaturii, îndeosebi de aceea din Eneida. Căpitanul Charles Marlow povestește unor prieteni drumul pe care l-a făcut pe rîul Congo, printr-un ținut pustiit și amenințător, pentru a-l întîlni pe un anume domn Kurtz (privit cu venerație și spaimă de călători), șeful unei „stații” de exploatare a fildeșului. Întîlnește un om bolnav („un diavol veștejit”), trecut dincolo de pragul oricărei nebunii, și asistă la moartea lui. Marlowe se ferește să judece, dar nu e un secret că tot ceea ce a văzut i se pare atroce și abject.

Întunericul la care se referă Conrad este, firește, întunericul sufletului uman.

Aș minți dacă aș spune că această povestire m-a entuziasmat. Nici în 2003, nici acum. Dar nu pot ignora eleganța și precizia stilului prozatorului polonez (pe adevăratul lui nume Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski):
„Într-o seară, intrînd în cabină cu o lumînare, am tresărit cînd l-am auzit pe [Kurtz] spunînd, cu glas oarecum scăzut, 'Zac aici în întuneric și aștept moartea...' [Kurtz] a strigat în șoaptă către o imagine, către o viziune - a strigat de două ori, o rostire ce nu era mai mult decît un suflu: 'Oroare! Oroare! Am stins lumînarea și am ieșit din cabină... One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, ‘I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.’... He [Kurtz] cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision—he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath: ‘The horror! The horror!’ I blew the candle out and left the cabin”.

P. S. N-aș vrea să trec peste faptul că scriitorul Chinua Achebe a denunțat povestirea lui Conrad ca rasistă și a stîrnit o polemică înverșunată. Opinia cea mai cumpănită mi s-a părut, totuși, aceea a lui David Lodge:
„E o greșeală să citești texte dintr-o epocă trecută cu ochelarii ideologici ai prezentului...; după standardele vremii sale, abordarea colonialismului european de către Conrad este una progresistă” (Norocul scriitorului. Memorii (1976 - 1991), traducere de Radu Pavel Gheo, Polirom, 2021, p.446).
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