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Continue your journey.....

HEART OF DARKNESS HOMEPAGE: Intro, list of links and send mail
THEMES: Explore themes, symbols and motifs
VOCABULARY: Insight into words and word choice
CHARACTERS: Review charcteristics of Marlow and more !!
BIOGRAPHY: Examine the mind behind the Heart of Darkness
AP LIT. HOMEPAGE: Other literary review links

What    We    Think

Heart of Darkness is a story within a story. The first narrator never enters the story itself, he only describes the events that occur on the deck of a yacht, the Nellie. This first narrator is Conrad himself. However, the actual adventures in the Congo are narrated by Marlow. The function of this character is to establish a norm against which the other characters can be compared. Marlow is the typical human, while the "pilgrims" and Kurtz stand for those who lose the main track. The unique thing about Heart of Darkness is that both the author's sentiments as well as the main character's feelings are represented separately. Even if Conrad agrees with most of Marlow's opinions, Conrad is not Marlow, and they are two different people in this book. We find this book to be fascinating for the fact that we never really understand Marlow, or Conrad, for that matter. They are both intended to remain elusive, and it is up to the reader to interpret their actions and words. Marlow at least tells the reader how he feels about what is going on around him, even if it is difficult at times to understand what is in his mind. However, the fifth person on the boat (Conrad) just reports what is being seen, and we don't get a chance at the author's insight.

Several things add to our appreciation of this literary work. The manner in which Conrad addresses some important philisophical and behavioral issues is original. The concept of conformity to what goes on around a person is addressed very well, and Kurtz is a perfect exapmle of this. Conrad is trying to tell the readers that people tend to regress to primitive roles and mannerisms in the absence of laws and rules. It starts bringing questions to mind, such as what is civilized, and how do we define savage/barbaric. In addition, Conrad slips in nihilism by showing his audience that we if we are controlled by the enviornment we live in, and go along with our experiences without taking control, we cannot create our purpose in life and thereby have a meaningless existence.

The whole concept of using ambiguity in this book makes Heart of Darkness a very mysetrious and interesting plot to uncover. It was amazing to see how much descriptive detail and figurative language was used in the text. Depending on a particular person's viewpoint, a lot of the events and sights witnessed in story can be taken different ways. The image of a shadow also adds to the effect of the hidden meaning, and examples of this include mist, fog, cloud, darkness, and blackness. These are contrasted to a world of light, sunlight, lightning flashes, moonlight, and candles. The opposing symbols can be believed to reveal the different levels of thinking in a person. Conrad the psychologist shows us that beneath the conscious, "light' level of thinking lies the dark, subconscious below the surface in the shadow. Conrad's book seems so true to life because his characters have believable motives for their actions, and when he explores the depths of the unconscious, he shows the reader that every person has a shadow within them.

Other works that help with Understanding

"The Hollow Men": Read T.S. Elliot's poem for help in interpreting "Heart ofDarkness"
Apocalypse Now: Reveiw this site of the movie based of off Heart of Darkness and the Veitnam War.

The links above provide two key elements that will ease your 
understanding of Heart of Darkness.  The first is to a page 
providing T.S. Elliot's Poem , "The Hollow Men."  After 
reading the poem it is important to ask what charcterizies a
hollow man.  Perhaps it is the fact that some are hypocritical
or that they do not take a stand for anything.  Most generally
it would be that hollow men do not walk their talk.  It is the 
same controversy in Heart of Darkness, about personal gain vs.
conviction.  WE see this controversy played out intwo key parts
at the end of the novel.  We see it in Marlow after kurtz's death, 
when he can either choose to stay and be worshiped as Kurtz did 
or he can walk away.  Kurtz took his soul to the brink and found 
that it was hollow, Marlow followed the same path and was able to
walk away.  This controversy is also shown upon Marlows return home.
Marlow was asked by kurtz's intended what his last words were.
Marlow could have told her the truth in being, "The horror...The 
horror." But instead, for right or wrong, marlow told the intended 
that he uttered her name.  This contraversy between personal gain 
and conviction illustrates the theme of the gratification of 
unrestrained lust. The difference between restrained and unrestarined 
would be that restarint is, for eaxample, being able to walk away from
the faces of death, and unrestaint is participating.
      The second link yo Apocalypse Now, is to a movie that was made 
in the seventies, based on Heart of Darkness and the Veitnam war.
The  movie is similar to the book in that:
*the man who Captain Willard is looking for is Kurtz
*there is surfing and water skiing for no reason
*eveyone is somewhat insane who has been out for a while
*Kurtz used to be a great Colonel -he's changed
*The men who are traveling are related to pilgrims
*Kurtz is treated like a god
*Kurtz has no restraint
Although the plots are not exactly the same, much can be learned
in watching Apocalypse Now after reading Heart of Darkness.