Heart of Darkness is a short novel (novella) written in 1899 by Joseph Conrad, a Polish-English novelist. The novella revolves around the journey to the Congo Free State in the Heart of Africa through the Congo River. The Heart Of Darkness themes centers around the hypocrisy of imperialism and the resulting madness, darkness of the soul, lack of restraint, human folly, the absurdity of evil, futility, contradiction and ambivalence, racism, and hollowness. In his book, Conrad compares London, the “greatest town on earth,” to Africa, as places of darkness.
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Heart Of Darkness Characters
Here are the characters from the Heart Of Darkness.
- Marlow: The protagonist
- Kurtz: The Inner Station’s chief and Marlow’s quest
- General manager: The one who runs the Central Station
- Brickmaker: The manager’s favorite
- Chief accountant: An efficient worker careful about his appearance
- Pilgrims: The insatiable agents of the Central Station
- Cannibals: Hired natives as the crew of the steamer
- Russian trader: A Russian sailor and devotee of Kurtz
- Helmsman: A pilot trained by Marlow’s predecessor
- Kurtz’s African mistress: A heavily jeweled beautiful woman. Kurtz’s mistress
- Kurtz’s Intended: Kurtz’s naïve fiancée
- Aunt: Marlow’s doting relative who gets him a place with the Company
- The men aboard the Nellie: Marlow’s friends
- Fresleven: A former captain of the steamer. Marlow’s predecessor.
Women In Heart Of Darkness
In Heart Of Darkness, we meet three women with significant roles. These are:
- Marlow’s aunt, who Marlow thinks is lowly. He finds it humiliating to ask her for help
- Kurtz’s native mistress, representing the savagery of Africa
- Kurtz’s Intended, representing the European women in their innocent politeness
Heart of Darkness Plot Summary
This summary of Heart Of Darkness takes culling from the Heart Of Darkness full text and Heart Of Darkness sparknotes. The Heart Of Darkness summary will be divided into three parts as detailed in the book. Here’s the plot summary and also the Heart Of Darkness chapter summary.
- Heart Of Darkness Part 1 Summary
This section will start with the Heart Of Darkness chapter 1 summary. The first part of the book began when Marlow got a job as the captain of the steamboat. At sunset, on the deck of Nellie, a pleasure ship, five men are relaxing, namely: the Director of Companies who also serves as the captain and host, the Accountant, the Lawyer, Marlow, and finally, the unnamed narrator. These five men are old friends, and they are in a meditative mood, recalling how many great men and ships have gone and never returned.
Marlow gives a remark that the very spot they are on was once a very “dark place” and imagines what it must be like for a soldier or Roman captain to come to places that are far from home and lacking in comforts. He remembers how the “blank spaces” on Africa’s map is his inspiration for this voyage. He also remembers how he got employed by the Belgian Company that traded on the Congo River (when the Congo existed as a Belgian territory) with the help of an aunt.
- Heart of Darkness Part 2 Summary
The second part of the book starts when Marlow overhears the conversation between his Uncle and the manager. They were discussing how Kurtz was planning to take over the manager’s position and make his reforms. The manager mentions Kurtz’s illness and another man, a wandering trader he finds troublesome and a challenge to his authority. His Uncle mentions that the trader should be hanged and that Kurtz may die of tropical disease. Marlow, shocked by such words, leaps to his feet and reveals himself. The two men were startled but not overly worried about his presence. Sequel to this incident, the Eldorado Expedition, led by the Uncle of the manager, got lost in the wilderness.
Marlow, the manager, and several “pilgrims” prepare to meet Kurtz up the river. The trip comes with many difficulties because the river is treacherous. They received help from a crew of natives that the Europeans call “cannibals.” These cannibals prove to be quite reasonable people. Marlow feels a sense of kinship and connection between himself and the savages they met, but due to his work on the ship, he didn’t dwell much on the thought.
- Heart Of Darkness Part 3 Summary
In the third part of the book, the Russian trader pleads with Marlow to take Kurtz away promptly. He recounts his memorable encounter with Kurtz and how he had learned so much from him and taken care of him while he was ill. Despite their occasional misunderstanding, the Russian trader believes that Kurtz cannot be judged the same way others are.
The Russian tells Marlow how the Company has neglected Kurtz and how he has no medicine to treat him. Kurtz is brought into the scene with a stretcher, and the manager and pilgrims lay him in one of the cabins and deliver him his mail, which they brought from the Central Station. Their talk is interrupted when they hear Kurtz yell at the manager, accusing the men of coming to get ivory rather than to help him. Kurtz also threatens the manager for deterring his plans.
The manager shuts down the Company for the time being because he feels Kurtz lacks proper judgment. Marlow tries to take sides with Kurtz after the manager’s false statement about Kurtz, and he alienates himself from the Company and the manager. The Russian tells Marlow that Kurtz plans to attack the crew so that the manager can turn back. Marlow also tells the Russian about the manager’s plans to get the Russian hanged. The Russian does not act surprised. He receives some supplies from Marlow and leaves with some native paddlers in a canoe.
Heart Of Darkness Analysis
So what is the message of Heart Of Darkness? From the Heart Of Darkness short summary above, we find that the opening establishes a dark tone the “interminable waterway,” showing that England’s civilization is a camouflage covering the dark heart that all men share. The hollowness of civilization is hinted when their jobs replace the names of the characters in the ship.
Another sign of hollowness is seen when the Uncle advises the manager to hang the Russian trader as there are no authorities around. The Uncle also mentions that acting in a civilized way is an act that is designed to avoid punishment. The Russian trader is the only white person who is not in search for money, fame, or power. This keeps him from the cancerous tentacles of corruption because of his non-domineering will.
Racism In Heart Of Darkness
The novella portrayed racism in many ways, such as the use of natives for slave labor and also the practice of dehumanization.
Heart of Darkness Symbols
Symbols in the heart of darkness include the decapitated heads of native men displayed on the fence posts, the fog, the river, the whited sepulcher, and the women. There are also many Heart Of Darkness important quotes in the book that depict the book’s central theme and symbols.
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