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Into the Darkness: Marlow’s Discovery of the Relationship between Darkness and Civilization

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  1. Introduction
  2. If these men are pilgrims at all, their god is the 'flabby devil'
  3. Mr. Kurtz: The most perfect example of this loss of civilization
  4. Marlow's meeting with Kurtz
  5. His loss of civilized behavior
  6. His sins and the darkness within his heart
  7. Conclusion

In his novel Heart of Darkness, published in 1902, Joseph Conrad explores the deepest reaches of the African continent, and at the same time, the innermost secrets of human nature. The novel is narrated mostly by Marlow, a seaman known for his ?inconclusive experiences,? who has, over the course of his travels, voyaged down the Congo in the service of ivory traders. His journey, in addition to investigating the ruthlessness of the ivory merchants and the deplorable exploitation of the African natives, delves into the nature of human civilization and European imperialism. As he travels further into the jungle, Marlow feels that he is also traveling back to the origins of humanity, to the predecessors of his countrymen, insulated by their fierce jungle from the rest of the world until now. Conrad seeks to examine the two antithetical extremes of human existence, the highly disciplined and organized structure of civilization, in the form of imperialist Europe, and the untamed, passionate liberties of the African continent. What Marlow and Conrad discover is that even men born into all the comforts of modern, civilized culture retain the darkness of primeval life, making the title of the book signify both the embodiment of Africa as the central location, the heart of the darkness within man, and the fact that man's heart, by definition, is created at least in part out of darkness. By the end of the novel, after his voyage is completed and he has encountered Kurtz's Intended, Marlow comes to realize that only by forging a very delicate balance of proof and faith, fact and illusion, can civilized life continue to exist despite the presence of the ?immense darkness? within man.

[...] Marlow's irritation with her, however, fades when he realizes that her perception, her dogged commitment to the ideal of love and civilization, is precisely what keeps civilization in existence and the darkness of the human heart at bay. Were he to tell her the truth, that Kurtz's final words were a condemnation of his own life, without any mention of her, Marlow would shatter her protective faith and destroy the barrier between darkness and light. would have been too dark too dark altogether he says, unable to describe more clearly what he feels. [...]

[...] That is why I have remained loyal to Kurtz to the last When faced with the choice between loyalty to Kurtz or the Manager, Marlow chooses the ?unsound methods,? the abandonment of civilization for the primitivism of the jungle, rather than the totally immoral exploitation, completely devoid of compassion, that the Manager and his type advocate. Kurtz's way, at least, is self-aware, which helps redeem it, thinking in terms of morals and above all, honesty, as Marlow must. Kurtz's demise serves to show Marlow that the coexistence of civilization and darkness is a frail one, and men subject to obeying both entities are hard-pressed to maintain their integrity. [...]

[...] Voyaging into the Congo is something akin to trekking into the deepest recesses of human history, and modern civilization faces constant challenges as it looks at its own past. As people spend more and more time in the Congo, their grasp on their values and their civilization slips, calling into question the potency of the European way of life. Marlow, who values veracity above all else, sees the rampant corruption in the stations, and the farther he travels, the more deterioration he sees. [...]

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