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Heart of Darkness Novel by Joseph Conrad


The novel selected for analysis has been written by Joseph Conrad and centers on the disparity between Europe and Africa. The Congo River and Congo state lie at the heart of Conrad’s narration, and he has described Africa being enveloped in Darkness. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness narrates the story of a guy named Christopher Marlow, who works as an ivory transporter and journeys to the Congo. The protagonist gets to see Africa drowned in darkness and human nature is revealed to him when he looks at the white workers treating the black like animals on a leash. Through the journey to Congo, Marlow becomes interested in knowing a man by the name of Kurtz who it seems is in control of the black slaves. Through most of the novel, Marlow only hears of the name Kurtz and does not know who he is or what he looks like except for that everyone is scared of him to be it black or white. Marlow’s shock comes to the surface when he sees what the European traders have done to the blacks. Most of the novella focuses on the human nature, one which is on the surface and the other which is inherent. In this paper, the surface character and inner character will be discussed with examples in the form of quotes that will be taken from the text.


The present paper focuses on surface character and the inner character by analyzing different characters that are present in the novella. It should be noted that the surface character reflects the thoughts, opinions and an outward appearance that people acquire so that others can assess their personality based on what they see. On the other hand, the inner character is based on the desires and drives that one has and follows. To get a better understanding what a surface character is, the example of the colonists fits the picture. On the surface the colonists and the imperialists showed their thoughts and perspectives on educating Africans. Their outward appearance was that the white colonists only had good intentions and were journeying to Congo to improve the way of life that the Africans had. The following line shows the colonist’s intentions “The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealth, and the germs of empires.” (Conrad). As the story opens, the readers get to look at the world from Marlow’s perspective. Marlow is onboard with three other men, and he describes the atmosphere as sinister while journeying to Congo as he says in the narrative ‘And this has been one of the dark places of the earth.’ During his journey, Marlow continues to hear people mention Kurtz’s name again and again which piques his interest and makes him look forward to crossing paths with Kurtz. People refer to Kurtz as a man who is a genius, however, by the middle of the novella, Marlow expresses his horror at finding out that Kurtz is a cold-blooded colonist. The reason for this is that Marlow gets to uncover the truth behind the colonist’s intentions for getting inside Africa. When he steps on land, he sees black shapes that are bent low with chains around their necks and shackles in their ankles to keep them from running away. Marlow narrates that Kurtz had made the natives his slaves and treated them brutally. Most of the slaves were left outside to die, and others were beaten to death as recounted by the protagonist.

The treatment of the natives shows that the white colonists had come to Congo with evil intentions. Their desires were limited to getting ivory out of the that place and they did not care for the natives. The outward appearance of Kurtz and his followers was filled with good intentions regarding Congo. The following passage shows the treatment of natives at the hands of the white colonists and highlights their inner desires,

They [the slaves] were dying slowly—it was evident. They were not enemies; they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now, – nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom.” (Conrad)

Marlow says that the white people had barbarism inherent in their nature. He gets to lift the veil off of the colonist’s face and see the real man who is cruel in his heart and his mind, and his cruelty is what makes the place dark even though the darkness that Marlow refered to initially refered to Africa not being colonized. However, the darkness that is refered to here aims at the white colonist who is the embodiment of evil. Marlow describes the barbaric nature of Kurtz by telling the reader about his cruelty to the natives and also pointing towards Kurtz’s greed for ivory which ultimately led him to his death. Marlow takes his readers through a journey which looks beneath the surface and brings out the real nature of humans. The readers get to see the inner human mentality, nature and in a broader sense the surface of civilization when it receives power and privileges. The story brings to the front the events that are related to the colonization of Africa, which has refered to as the Dark Continent in the novella. The central theme covered throughout the narrative is that of what humans appear to be on the surface and what they indeed are beneath that layer of skin that hides their desires and motives.

The novella highlights the issues brought about by imperialism in a complicated way by showing the experiences and the observations made by Marlow. Marlow shows the readers that the colonial enterprise pretended to be trading with Congo to help them improve their lives, but in reality, the colonists were enslaving the natives and using them for labor to get ivory across to Europe. The following lines are proof of the colonist’s mindset “The mind of man is capable of anything” (Conrad). The hypocrisy of the colonial enterprise is unveiled through Marlow’s observation as he moves from the outer station towards the central station and during that he gets glimpses of the inhumane treatment of the black slaves at the hands of the colonists.

Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair.” (Conrad)

The role of Kurtz as a true colonist is expressed from his attitude towards the natives. He shows himself as a savior working to improve the conditions of the African people, but in truth, he takes control of power and uses it to endow brutality upon the natives. Kurtz’s dual nature is shown when Marlow finds the severed heads of the natives on spikes outside Kurtz’s cabin which shows his barbaric and evil nature.

Furthermore, Marlow mentions in the narrative that Kurtz is responsible for initiating bloody raids and killing the native families in the process, all for the sake of attaining ivory. However, in the papers, Kurtz writes that he has been working for the betterment of the natives and improving their way of living. Another factor that points towards the duality of nature in Kurtz is his obsession with ivory. Kurtz refuses to leave Congo despite being severely ill as he is obsessed with ivory to the point that he dies at the end while being stubborn and not leaving the land. Aside from ivory, Kurtz keeps a black mistress despite having a white fiancée who is waiting for him back at home. Marlow does not add the existence of the black mistress as he does not wish the rest of the world to know about Kurtz’s nature and obsessions that might give up a bad name and ruin his reputation as a genius man.


From the above analysis, it is evident that the novella presents a pessimistic view of what human nature is capable of doing. The narrator depicts a realistic image of how human nature can be overwhelmingly subject to passions, emotions, and appetites that remain primitive. Marlow shows the readers how these primitive drives and impulses are brought to life when people like Kurtz are left in charge of a population that is uneducated and helpless in the face of a colonized world. Africa was viewed as a backward land that needed to be colonized by the white supremacy. In other words, virgin territory that had to be penetrated by the white colonists to tame it and take control of it. By doing so, the colonist’s true nature was exposed and also their atrocities that had been inflicted on the natives.

End Notes

  1. Joseph, C. (2017). Heart of Darkness. Strelbytskyy Multimedia.



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