Two Meanings of the Phrase “Heart of Darkness”
Heart of Darkness is a novel which clearly shows the influence of psychology and psychiatry which were emerging as full-fledged sciences at the time when this novel was written. Heart of Darkness certainly describes Marlow’s exploration of that part of the dark continent of Africa which had come to be known as the Congo, and also his voyage upon the river having the name of the Congo; but at the same time this novel is a record of the inner life of Marlow during the period of his travels in that country.Heart of Darkness certainly gives us vivid descriptions of Marlow’s outward experiences in the Congo; but it also gives us a vivid description of the thoughts and ideas which crossed his mind during his stay in that country. Marlow appears in this novel not only as a man of action taking great risks by going into the interior of the Congo, but also as a thinker who broods and meditates upon everything that he sees. Marlow appears as a keen observer, and he also appears as a thinker who reflects upon everything that he observes. Marlow is an introspective man who keeps constantly examining his own thoughts as they arise in his mind. Thus the book is to be treated not only as a kind of Marlow’s (or Conrad’s) travels in, and his exploration of, the dark continent of
Marlow’s Inner Reactions to Outward Things at the Very Outset
From the very beginning, this novel gives us the internals as well as the externals. The externals are the outward scenes, happenings, incidents, and the persons with whom Marlow comes into contact, while the internals are the workings of Marlow’s own mind or the thoughts which take their rise in his sub-conscious. Thus the novel is a record of a two-fold journey––a journey into the
which had at that time not yet been fully explored, and a journey into the dark realm of Marlow’s mind and, in a sense, into the dark realm of the human mind in general. At the very outset, Marlow is described by one of his comrades as sitting in the pose of a Buddha preaching in European clothes and without a lotus-flower; and, when Marlow speaks, it is very much like a philosopher delivering a discourse. Soon it appears that Marlow has spent many years voyaging upon the distant seas, and that he had also for a time become a fresh-water sailor. Then, as he narrates his experiences to a small group of his friends, he not only gives them his experiences of outward happenings but also his inward reactions to his experiences. For instance, he tells his friends that the city of Congo made him think of a “whited sepulchre” (that is, a place which outwardly seems to be pleasant and righteous but is actually corrupt and disgusting). When he speaks about his encounter with the two knitting-women, he also describes his mental reaction to them : “Hail, old knitter of black wool. Those who are about to die salute you!” After seeing the knitting-women and after meeting his aunt, Marlow feels as if, instead of going to the centre of a continent, he were about to start for the centre of the earth. Similarly, he describes his reactions to the doctor who examines him and who measures the dimensions of his skull because it is in the interests of science for him to do so. The doctor at this time tells Marlow that it would be interesting for science to watch the mental changes of individuals during their stay in the dark continent. Subsequently, at one point in the course of his narration, Marlow says that during his travels through the Brussels he really became a fit subject of study for a psychologist’ or a psychiatrist. Congo
Marlow’s Thoughts During His Initial Voyage up the
When Marlow is sailing towards the
on a French steamer, he again records his thoughts. He tells us that, being a passenger on this steamer, he had no duties to perform and that he keenly felt his isolation among the members of the crew with whom he had no point of contact. He tells us that during this journey the voice of the surf was now and then a positive pleasure to him like the speech of a brother. This voice, he says, was something natural which had its reason and which had a meaning. Then, on seeing a warship firing its guns into the immense forest without having any target in view, Marlow finds the action of the warship to be incomprehensible. Here he feels that there was a touch of insanity in the warship’s proceeding. Seeing certain places with farcial names, Marlow says that “the merry dance of death and trade” went on there in a still and earthy atmosphere resembling that of an overheated tomb. Later, Marlow sees half a dozen black men linked together with a chain, and each wearing an iron collar around his neck. These men were criminals who had violated the law. This sight produces a deep effect on Marlow, giving rise to a chain of awful thoughts in his mind. He here says that he had previously seen the devil of violence, the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire, but that these half a dozen black men were strong, muscular, red-eyed devils. Soon he would become acquainted with the weak-eye devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly, says Marlow. Congo
His Thoughts On Encountering the Manager and the Brick-Maker
Marlow’s encounter with the manager of the Central Station and the brick-maker there also gives rise to many thoughts in his mind. The manager seems to be a man with nothing inside him, while the brick-maker appears to be a cunning and inquisitive man who tries to find out, by questioning Marlow, whether Marlow has any influence among the higher officials of the trading company which has sent him here. In this context, Marlow tells us that he has always hated and detested lies, not because he is straighter than the other people, but because a lie simply appals him. Marlow finds a taint of death and a flavour of mortality in lies. However, on this occasion, Marlow allows the brick-maker falsely to assume that he did have a lot of influence among the high officials of the company. In the same context, Marlow says that the figure of Mr. Kurtz at this time was like a dream to him. He further says that no man can convey to others a dream-sensation, and that it is impossible for a man to convey to others the life-sensation of any given period of his existence. Marlow then adds: “We live, as we dream––alone.” Thus here we find Marlow probing his own mind and delving into depths of his mind.
Marlow’s Reflections Upon Work
Later, Marlow speaks about his work-ethic. He has to work hard on the ship which he has to command but which lies at this time at the bottom of the river. In pulling the wrecked steamer out of the river and repairing it, Marlow has to work very hard. Here he says that his hard work made him fall in love with the steamer. This steamer, he says, gave him a chance to find out what he could do. No, he did not like the work, but he liked what was in the work. Work, says Marlow, gives a man the chance to find himself and his own reality. When Marlow overhears the conversation between the manager and his uncle, Marlow becomes curious to know whether Mr. Kurtz, who has come into the
with moral ideas of some kind, would climb to the top after all. Congo
His Thoughts About Surface Reality, Inner Truth, and Inborn Strength
When Marlow has actually become the skipper of the Company’s steamer and begins his voyage on the river
, he continues to meditate upon whatever he sees and overhears. For instance, at the very outset he says that, in performing the daily duties of a routine kind, a man comes to know only the surface reality of life because the inner truth is hidden from him. In command of a steamer on a strange and unknown river, Marlow feels like a blind-folded man driving a motor-van over a bad road. Then Marlow describes his reactions to the scenery which he witnesses. “We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness,” he says; and the earth at that time seemed unearthly to him. A little later, he says that the mind of man is capable of anything because everything is in its all the past as well as all the future. Furthermore, a real man is he who can meet the naked truth with his own true stuff. A man must face all the ordeals “with his own inborn strength.” Principles and possessions would serve no purpose. What is needed is “a deliberate belief.” Then Marlow proceeds to describe to us the character of the fireman on his steamer. Congo
The Wonderful Book in the Deserted Hut
When Marlow discovers a book on the subject of seamanship in the deserted hut, he says that it was not a very enthralling book but that it did show a singleness of intention and an honest concern for the right way of going to work. Such a book being found in that hut was something wonderful, says Marlow; but still more surprising were the notes written in pencil in the margin. The notes seemed to be in cipher and looked like an extravagant mystery. Later, however, the mystery is solved because Marlow learns that the notes were written not in cipher but in the Russian language. Here Marlow also observes that no man in this world is safe from trouble at any stage in his life.
Marlow’s Reflections On Hunger and-On Self-Restraint
Marlow’s reflections upon his cannibal crew are also noteworthy. Here again he records his mental reactions to an outward situation. The crew consists of cannibals who would like to eat human flesh to satisfy their hunger. They could easily kill the white men on board the steamer and eat their flesh; but they did not do so. Marlow feels amazed to find that, in spite of their gnawing hunger, they did not kill the white men on board. Marlow looks at these cannibals with great curiosity about their impulses, motives, capacities, and weaknesses, when brought to the test of an unbearable physical necessity. Marlow asks whether it was superstition, patience, fear, or some kind of primitive honour, which prevented those cannibals from attacking the white men. “It takes a man all his inborn strength to fight hunger properly,” says Marlow. It is really easier to face the death of a close relative than to face prolonged hunger. It is easier to endure dishonour and even the damnation of one’s soul than to bear the pangs of hunger. Marlow is therefore filled with admiration for the self-restraint of those cannibals in not killing the white men and eating their flesh to appease their hunger.
His Reflections Upon the Helmsman and Upon Mr. Kurtz
Then there are Marlow’s reflections upon the helmsman, who gets killed by one of the natives through his own folly. The look in the dead helmsman’s eyes haunts Marlow. There is an inconceivably sombre, brooding, and menacing expression in the frown on the dead man’s face. In this context Marlow says that the helmsman had been lacking in selfrestraint. There are also Marlow’s reflections upon Mr. Kurtz about whom he has been hearing a lot. Marlow has been told by some of the white men in tones of jealousy and admiration that Mr. Kurtz had collected, bartered, swindled, or stolen more ivory than all the other agents taken together. But this is not the point, says Marlow. The point is in the fact that Mr. Kurtz was a gifted creature, with eloquence as his greatest gift. When Marlow is told by someone that Mr. Kurtz might be dead by this time, Marlow feels deeply disappointed. He does not, of course, shed tears, but he is certainly grieved at the idea of having lost the privilege of meeting Mr. Kurtz and listening to his eloquent talk. Fortunately, Mr. Kurtz is found to be still alive; and so Marlow feels comforted by this information.
Marlow’s Conscious and Sub-Conscious Reactions to Mr. Kurtz
From this point onwards the narration centres round the deeds and the personality of Mr. Kurtz; and, in telling us the facts about Mr. Kurtz, Marlow also gives us his own reactions to those facts. The facts about Mr. Kurtz are certainly very intriguing, but so are Marlow’s reactions to those facts. In fact, we feel as deeply interested in Marlow’s mental make-up as we feel in that of Mr. Kurtz. Mr. Kurtz has now become an embodiment of evil, so that it seems to Marlow that Mr. Kurtz has taken a high seat among the devils of the land. And here Marlow once again talks about the need of inner strength in a man if a man has to face such grim facts as the devilry of Mr. Kurtz. You must fall back upon your own innate strength, upon your own capacity for faithfulness, says Marlow, if you are to face the terror of scandal, or the gallows, or a lunatic asylum. Furthermore, Marlow now speaks about the spell which Mr. Kurtz’s reputation has begun to cast upon his own mini. Marlow here says that subsequently he became a devoted friend of Mr. Kurtz, and that Mr. Kurtz was able to conquer his soul. Marlow also tells us here that his soul was neither rudimentary nor tainted with selfishness. After meeting that man, Marlow begins really to admire him despite the man’s demonic character. In fact, Marlow now becomes deeply devoted to Mr. Kurtz and goes to the extent of saying that he would never betray him and that it had already been ordained that he would remain loyal to him always. Marlow admits that Mr. Kurtz was a nightmare but he still maintains that he would never betray him because, Mr. Kurtz was “the nightmare of his choice”. When Mr. Kurtz has slipped away from the ship’s cabin into the forest in response to the call of the wilderness, Marlow shows his loyalty by chasing him into the forest and persuading him to return to the ship. Thus Marlow has developed a keen personal interest in that man, whose evil he also recognizes fully. Even after returning to
Europe, Marlow remains loyal to Mr. Kurtz’s memory because, when Mr. Kurtz’s fiancee asks him what Mr. Kurtzs’ last word before death had been, Marlow tells her a lie and says that Mr. Kurtz’s last word had been her own name. Now this loyalty to Mr. Kurtz again means only one thing. As Mr. Kurtz had done no favour to Marlow, this loyalty can only be interpreted as Marlow’s own response to the primitivism and barbarism which Mr. Kurtz had been practising among the savages. This means that, if Marlow had stayed for some time longer in the and had begun to mix with the savages, he too would have followed the same path which Mr. Kurtz had begun to tread. It is here that we really find Marlow’s sub-conscious mind working. Marlow has been able to convey to us indirectly and subtly the influence of Mr. Kurtz’s primitivism upon himself, without being able to define that influence in specific and explicit terms. It is in the last one-third of the novel that Marlow tries to lay bare his sub-conscious mind. The writing in this part of the novel anticipates the technique which came afterwards to be known as “stream of consciousness” technique. This technique was subsequently practised by writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Conrad was a fore-runner of that technique whereby the inner consciousness of a character is revealed. The inspiration and the incentive to explore the sub-conscious mind had come, of course, from the findings of Sigmund Freud. Congo