First of all, get this straightHeart of Darknessis one of those classics that you have to have read if you want to consider yourself a well educated adult Having watchedApocalypse Nowdoesn t count if anything, it ups the ante, since that means you have to think about the similarities and differences for example, contrast and compare the U.S involvement in Vietnam with the Belgian rule over the Congo Actually quite an intriguing and provocative question The prose can feel turgid, but perhaps it may help to know that English was Conrad s third language His second was French, and that lends a lyric quality which, once accomodated, can draw you into the mood of the story Once you get used to that, this is a very easy book to read tremendously shorter thanMoby Dick , for instance Even though it is so much easier to read, this short novel shares with Moby Dick the distressing for many of us fact that it is heavily symbolic That is the reason it has such an important place in the literary canon it is very densely packed with philosophical questions that fundamentally can t be answered Frankly, I was trained as an engineer, and have to struggle even to attempt to peer through the veils of meaning I m envious of the students in the Columbia class that David Denby portrays in his 1995 article in the New Yorker, The Trouble with Heart of Darkness I wish I had been guided into this deep way of perceiving literature or music, or art, or life itself But most of us don t have that opportunity The alternate solution I chose when I checked this out of the library, I also grabbed the Cliff s Notes I read the story, then thought about it, then finally read the Study Guide to see what I d missed What I found there was enough to trigger my curiosity, so I also searched the internet for And there was quite a bit Like, the nature of a framed narrative the actual narrator in Heart of Darkness isn t Marlow, but some unnamed guy listening to Marlow talk And he stands in for us, the readers, such as when he has a pleasant perspective on the beautiful sunset of the Thames at the beginning of the story, then at the end he has been spooked and sees it as leading into the heart of an immense darkness , much as the Congo does in the story That symbolic use of darkness is a great example of what makes this book, and others like it, so great The immense darkness is simultaneously the real unknown of the jungle, as well as the symbolic darkness that hides within the human heart But then it is also something that pervades society so the narrator has been made aware that London, just upstream, really should be understood to be as frightening as the Congo And the reader should understand that, too The book is full of that kind of symbolism When Conrad was writing, a much larger portion of the reading public would have received a classical liberal arts education and would have perceived that aspect of the book easier than most of us do today Yeah, the book is so dense with this kind of symbolism, it can be an effort But that is precisely the element that made the book a stunning success when it was written T.S Elliot, for example, referred to it heavily in his second most famous poem, The Hollow Men the poem s epigraph makes it explicitMistah Kurtz he dead. For of that connection, see this short answer at stackexchange, or track down a copy of this academic analysis An annotated copy of Elliot s poem here can be edifying, too Not all of the symbolism worked for me For example, my initial take on how evil was dealt with seemed anachronistic and naive Actually, it felt a lot like Wilde sThe Picture of Dorian GrayIn both books, the main character has inadvertently received license to fully explore their evil inclinations without the normal societal consequences, and yet they both pay the ultimate penalty for their lack of restraint But my perspective on evil was long ago captured by Hannah Arendt s conclusion after analyzing Eichmann evil is a banal absence of empathy it isn t some malevolent devilish force striving to seduce and corrupt us Certainly, there are evil acts and evil people, but nothing mystical or spiritual that captures and enslaves, much less transforms us from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde Golding sLord of the Fliesexamined the question, but did it in a much modern manner I strongly recommend it If people aren t reminded by the constraints of civilization to treat others with respect, then sometimes they ll become brutal and barbaric But is their soul somehow becoming sick and corrupted The question no longer resonates Even Conrad actually didn t seem too clear on that question These two quotes are both from Heart of Darkness don t they seem implicitly contradictory The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary men alone are quite capable of every wickedness and Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again Oh, I wasn t touched I was fascinated It was as though a veil had been rent I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror of an intense and hopeless despair Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision he cried out twice, a cry that was no than a breath The horror The horror The former denies any supernatural origin for evil, but the latter alludes to the tragic results of a Faustian bargain Marlowe sold his soul to see what mortals should never witness After pondering the study guide, I could see the allegorical content better The mystical side of Heart of Darkness isn t the only thing going on Like the kids rescued from the island after Lord of the Flies, Marlow will forever be cognizant of how fragile civilized behavior can be, and how easily some slip into brutality even those that have excellent motives and apparently unblemished characters This is why he tells this as a cautionary tale to his shipmates on the Thames Marlow also received a clear lesson on hypocrisy I hadn t seen how deeply The Company represented European hypocrisy Obviously The Company was purely exploitative and thus typical of imperialism, but in subtle ways Conrad made it not just typical but allegorically representative One example Cliff mentions scares me just a bit in the offices of The Company in Brussels, Marlow notices the strange sight of two women knitting black wool Conrad provides no explanation But recall your mythology the Fates spun out the thread that measured the lives of mere mortals In the story, these are represented as women who work for The Company , which has ultimate power over the mere mortals in Africa That s pretty impressive Conrad tosses in a tiny aside that references Greek or Roman or Germanic mythology and ties it both to imperialism, as well as to the power that modern society has handed to corporations, and quietly walks away from it How many other little tidbits are buried in this short book Frankly, it seems kind of spooky The study guide also helped me understand what had been a major frustration of the book I thought that Conrad had skipped over too much, leaving crucial information unstated Between Marlow s rescue of Kurtz and Kurtz s death there are only a few pages in the story, but they imply that the two had significant conversations that greatly impressed Marlow, that left Marlow awestruck at what Kurtz had intended, had survived, and had understood These impressions are what broke Marlow, but we are never informed of even the gist of those conversations But Marlow isn t our narrator he is on the deck of a ship, struggling to put into words a story that still torments him years after the events had passed Sometimes he can t convey what we want to know he stumbles, he expresses himself poorly The narrator is like us, just listening and trying to make sense out of it, and gradually being persuaded of the horrors that must have transpired Addendum Conrad s Heart of Darkness was written in 1899 A critical event which allowed the tragedy portrayed here was the Berlin Conference of 1884 wikipedia , where the lines that divided up Africa were tidied up and shuffled a bit by the white men of Europe no Africans were invited The BBC4 radio programme In Our Time covered the conference on 31 October 2013 Listen to it streaming here, or download it as an MP3 here Forty three minutes of erudition will invigorate your synapses Oh, if you liked that In Our Time episode, here is the one they did on the book itself mp3. Is Joseph Conrad a racist Well, that is a question, a question that is extremely difficult to answer There are certainly racist aspects within Heart of DarknessHowever, how far this is Conrad s own personal opinion is near impossible to tell Certainly, Marlowe, the protagonist and narrator, has some rather patronising notions as to how the Africans should be treated, and the image of the colonised is one of repression and servitude, but does this reflect Conrad s own opinions How far can we suggest that a fictional character embodies the author s own notions of the world Marlowe could just be the embodiment of an ignorant Westerner with a misguided superiority complex Conrad could have purposely written him this way to suggest how damaging the Westerner s point of view was There is also the consideration that the colonised doesn t really have an intelligible voice through the entire novel, though, it must be noted, that the whole novel is technically a white man s monologue it is all reported speech rather than direct speech So, everything Marlowe says could be bias it could be slightly twisted with his perspective Is this the intended effect I don t think anybody can say conclusively Nor can anybody fully argue who Marlowe represents I cannot personally tell whether he is an accidental suggestion of Conrad or a deliberate attempt to satirise the Western man Convincing, and inconclusive, arguments can be made in either direction This text is incredibly dense with conflicting interpretations It s hard to know what to make of it Well for all the difficulties with the racism angle, one thing is undeniable Conrad does provide a harsh critique for colonialism That cannot be ignored Firstly, it can be seen as detrimental to the colonised The Westerners exploit the tribes for their ivory and ship it back home They take the wealth of the tribe folk, rouse their wrath and cause war between neighbouring villages All in all, they shape the culture of the colonised they destroy it It provides an image of a society totally obsessed with monetary wealth, and how much they can gain through the evils of Imperialism Secondly, it can be seen as detrimental to the coloniser Kurtz enters the heart of the jungle and becomes completely corrupted This suggests that the so called savagery of the tribe folk can set of the white man s similar innate response he can be altered and twisted into a lesser form Conrad suggests that Kurtz becomes ruined as a result But, this ruination could be attributed to the evils of colonisation rather than the black man s influence If both cultures can become ruined, then it can be read as a suggestion that colonisation is detrimental to allThey were no colonists their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing , I suspect They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got So, Colonisation is bad But, does this mean Conrad can no longer be considered a racist If he wants to get rid of servitude and pull the white man out of the jungle, does this mean that this display of liberty ignores the difference between skin colours No it doesn t Marlowe makes explicit reference to the differences between the white man and the black man He doesn t do this violently or purposely to offend he does it in a patronising manner He views the black man as a little brother, someone to be taught and led around An educated black man then becomes whiter he stands apart from his brethren Indeed, the passage I m about to quote is one that is used time and time again to suggest that Conrad is racist Granted, the paragraph is terribly racist it is patronising, offensive and vulgar But, is this Conrad s opinion I recognise that this is a long quote, but the whole thing is needed to demonstrate what I ve been trying to sayA slight clinking behind me made me turn my head Six black men advanced in a file, toiling up the path They walked erect and slow, balancing small baskets full of earth on their heads, and the clink kept time with their footsteps Black rags were wound round their loins, and the short ends behind waggled to and fro like tails I could see every rib, the joints of their limbs were like knots in a rope each had an iron collar on his neck, and all were connected together with a chain whose bights swung between them, rhythmically clinking Another report from the cliff made me think suddenly of that ship of war I had seen firing into a continent It was the same kind of ominous voice but these men could by no stretch of imagination be called enemies They were called criminals, and the outraged law, like the bursting shells, had come to them, an insoluble mystery from the sea All their meagre breasts panted together, the violently dilated nostrils quivered, the eyes stared stonily uphill They passed me within six inches, without a glance, with that complete, deathlike indifference of unhappy savages Behind this raw matter one of the reclaimed, the product of the new forces at work, strolled despondently, carrying a rifle by its middle He had a uniform jacket with one button off, and seeing a white man on the path, hoisted his weapon to his shoulder with alacrity This was simple prudence, white men being so much alike at a distance that he could not tell who I might be He was speedily reassured, and with a large, white, rascally grin, and a glance at his charge, seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust After all, I also was a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings The black man has been given animalistic traits Marlowe describes them as having tails and remarks on their bodies in a way that suggests that they are beasts they are mere tools for work in which the effectiveness of their body is their stock and trade It s all they have to go on their ability to produce effective labour Marlowe is repulsed by this idea he recognises the absurdity of treating men like this, men who are apparently criminals This is a criticism of Colonialism it is a criticism of treating men this way But, he, personally, describes them as savage he, personally, suggests that their overseer, a black man who is employed by the Coloniser, is less black Because he is guarding his fellow black man, he is now, according to Marlowe, whiter This is blatant evidence that Marlowe not Conrad views the black man in a patronising manner He opposes Colonialism, but he still views the black man as less than him Chinua Achebe takes this as direct evidence of Conrad s own opinion In his renowned essay, an image of Africa, he refers to Conrad as a bloody racist He recognises that Marlowe may be a fictional creation, rather than an embodiment of Conrad s own voice But, he suggests that because Conrad didn t condemn such racist remarks, they must therefore be approved by him Achebe then went on to write a version of Heart of Darkness Things fall Apart from the black man s perspective I ll be reviewing this soon in consideration with what I m talking about here, but I think Achebe s remarks are unfair The evidence he provides is inconclusive Conrad doesn t condemn the racist remarks because he didn t need to If you view Marlowe as a purposeful creation of the Western man s prejudice, then it would be awkward to condemn the prejudice The ironic creation of such a character would achieve this without having to directly say it it would be implied I m unsure whether Conrad was a racist or not There is not enough strong evidence to prove or disprove such an argument within the text But, condemning him for being a racist is a little harsh yes, racism is terrible, I m not saying that However, Conrad wrote at the end of the Victorian period Whatever you may think about his possible viewpoints, to judge him by today s standers is flawed If you judge him by today s rising liberal opinion regarding race, then you can systematically extend the same judgement to pretty much every author of the period and the periods that came before it Half the English canon was probably racist The Victorians, as a society, were racist So was most of Western society for centuries It s how they saw the world it s how their society saw the world This is, of course, a terrible thing But it was the norm If you dismiss Conrad based upon this, then you can dismiss many, many other authors too So, for Joseph Conrad, who may or may not be racist, to condemn Imperialism and Colonialization is kind of a big step He is arguing against his entire government he is suggesting that it is evil and corrupt This is forward thinking stuff It may sound simple by today s standard, but this was the entire Western way of life They cruelly, and systematically, built their wealth one of the most horrible situations in human history For Conrad to point this out is almost revolutionary I enjoyed reading his critique on it I enjoyed the irony and how he suggests the evil of such a regime But, regardless of this, I could never rate this book five stars It is written phenomenally it is bursting with literary merit it is wonderfully interesting to read Some of the prose is just beautiful However, I will always see the unattributed whispers of racism in this work I will always be aware of the possibility that it belongs to the author, and I cannot ignore that. Never in all my life has 100 little pages made me contemplate suicideviolent suicide i had to finish it i had no choice yay college every page was literally painful.am i supposed to feel sorry for him because i don t i feel sorry for all of Africa getting invaded with dumbasses like this guy oh and in case you didn t get itthe heart of darkness is like this super deep megametaphor of all metaphors and in case it wasn t clear enough, conrad will spend many many useless words clearly explaining the layers of depth his metaphor can take oh manmy heart is darkand i m also in the middle of Africaand it s darkand depressingget itget it From 1885 to 1908, an area in Africa now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then under the rule of King Leopold II of Belgium, experienced an intense genocide Through the Red Rubber system, the people of the Congo were essentially enslaved to harvest rubber Those who failed to collect enough rubber had their hands chopped off Some died from disease brought on by the terrible conditions, while others were just flat out murdered It is estimated that around three to thirteen million people died between 1885 and 1908, perhaps 25 to 50 percent of the total population By the end of this period, the Congo, which just a 100 years ago had hosted the expansive and successful Kongo Empire, had seen its natural resources destroyed, its people mutilated, and its entire society changed forever The negative legacy of colonialism is strong throughout Africa and across the world, but the Congo is one of the countries that suffered most This is a horrifying, disgusting legacy And one that this book does not on any level respect.On the surface, this book can be read as anti colonialist, a narrative that decries the brutality with which King Leopold II and other rulers allowed African people to be treated This reading is comforting to us It feels right How can we read of their deaths and not feel ashamed How can we see the heads of so called rebels on pikes and not find ourselves filled with horror How can we read a scene in which people walk in a chain gang and not find our deepest sympathies with them How could Conrad not have felt the same But I do not believe that is the intent, or, to be quite honest, an accurate reading of the narrative of this book Conrad s descriptions and depictions of black people are dehumanizing to their core No black character in this book feels real, feels like a person we may empathize with and care for It is in the descriptions of Kurtz s black mistress, of the slave boy whose only contribution to the narrative is the line Mistah Kutz, he dead Conrad does not share our empathies Our horror at their fate and in their suffering is our own, not Conrad s The thing about this book is that it s not a criticism of colonialism, and while reading it as such feels viable on the surface, looking deeper into the narrative makes this book feel odder and odder This book is a look at the depth of human evil and how that can be brought out when society breaks down Notice the end of that sentence Because the reason Africa is the subject of this book is because this narrative fundamentally believes that Africa is a primitive, uncivilized, immoral landscape Which I find to be an inaccurate and frankly immoral view of Africa The historical record of our time shows that pre Colonial African civilization was just as advanced as that of European nations, just as filled with life Conrad emphatically believes otherwise And while I am willing to understand on some level that this was an ingrained belief of European colonists, this book pushes this message to a very high degree it s irrevocably tied to the message of the book that I found impossible to ignore.Yes, the idea is also pushed that the people of Europe are really no different from the people of the Congo I fully admit that Joseph Conrad is getting at the idea that none of us are so evolved and none of us are so civilized ourselves and white society cannot put itself totally above others Conrad is explicitly attempting to put black people and white people on an equal level of brutality But this narrative is still fundamentally flawed The white characters in this book are evil colonists, but they are depicted as people The black characters of this book are savages They are rebels They are the helmsman, unnamed in his own narrative and dying ten pages in Some of them are literal cannibals The narrative shows a fundamental dehumanization of each savage character, undermining any sort of anti colonialist or pro African message And I find that fundamentally disturbing If I cannot feel any horror within the narrative for a genocide, a time in which culture was destroyed and the environment strangled and thousands slaughtered for the profit of an empire, how can I garner anything from this book How can I, in good concience, enjoy or recommend this book I understand and appreciate that many are going to read this review and think I misread the text, because this book is a classic I would remind them that no work of literature can be kept free from critique because it has stood the test of time And beyond that, I do not believe this is at all a surface reading It s been pushed in the minds of many that reading this book as racist is a surface level interpretation, but I genuinely and totally believe that the racism is what you get upon close reading Literary analysis of racist historical works is a polarising and complex topic, and I recognize that many will feel antagonistic towards this viewpoint I also fully admit that this book makes good use of an unreliable narrator and is one of the most gritty classics I have read as to its depiction of the human soul, and I have nothing against those who enjoyed it But I cannot enjoy this for those and erase the flaws I cannot appreciate the literary merit of a book that lacks a fundamental understanding of the humanity of black people I cannot And I m not sure I believe that I should recommended reading Chinua Achebe s beautifully rendered essay on Heart of Darkness.Blog Goodreads Twitter Youtube . We live in the flicker may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling But darkness was here yesterday Marlow is not just a narrator or an alter ego of Conrad, but a universal everyman, timeless And that, to me, is the greatest appeal of this book, it is timeless Like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds We live in the flicker The scene of Marlow sitting Buddha like as the Thames dreams into slow darkness and his voice takes on a disembodied, spiritual cast is iconic and Conrad s vision of history repeating itself as wicked and despotic civilization discovers it s ancient cousin is a ubiquitous theme in Conrad s work and one that is masterfully created here As the Britons and Picts were to the Romans, so to are the Africans to the Europeans and Conrad has demonstrated his timely message They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others A search for hidden meaning, a quest, mysteries solved and others unanswered, self realization and epiphany Conrad winds it all up in this classic The horror The horror 2018 re readI think there was a recent poll about what was the book you have re read the most No doubt for me, it s this one, read it a couple times in HS, few times in college and innumerable times since Looks like this is the third in the Goodreads era.As a scholar I have to be concise and methodical, precisely citing and referencing to a given treatise or authority When reading for pleasure, I m much intuitive, allowing my mind to wander and to muse and to collect abstract thoughts and make obscure connections as I read.This time around I payed attention to this story as it was written, a tale told in the gathering darkness near the mouth of the Thames, Marlow s voice a disembodied narration spinning an account of a time before but one that is ageless nonetheless The connection he makes between the Romans coming up the Thames and the Westerners traveling up the Congo is provocative and somber.As always, this is a story about Kurtz and his voice, that eloquent but hollow voice in the darkness, a civilized man gone native, but than that, a traveler shedding away the trappings of an enlightened age and looking into the abyss Whether the natives are dark skinned or white with blue tattoos, the image is the same and the message is all the haunting.On a short list of my favorites or all time, this may be my favorite. Picture Review of Heart of DarknessVisual Key White Man named Michael Cera represents Imperialism Sunset shows the impending darkness that is latently inside manSea represents the Congo River Moustache represents author Joseph Conrad who also has his own impressive facial hairRed Bonnet is a horrible choice of headwear thus might prompt one to remark the horror the horror which is also Kurtz last words Heart Of Darkness, A Novel By Joseph Conrad, Was Originally A Three Part Series In Blackwood S Magazine In It Is A Story Within A Story, Following A Character Named Charlie Marlow, Who Recounts His Adventure To A Group Of Men Onboard An Anchored Ship The Story Told Is Of His Early Life As A Ferry Boat Captain Although His Job Was To Transport Ivory Downriver, Charlie Develops An Interest In Investing An Ivory Procurement Agent, Kurtz, Who Is Employed By The Government Preceded By His Reputation As A Brilliant Emissary Of Progress, Kurtz Has Now Established Himself As A God Among The Natives In One Of The Darkest Places On Earth Marlow Suspects Something Else Of Kurtz He Has Gone MadA Reflection On Corruptive European Colonialism And A Journey Into The Nightmare Psyche Of One Of The Corrupted, Heart Of Darkness Is Considered One Of The Most Influential Works Ever Written It was a breathtaking read There are few books which make such a powerful impression as Heart of darkness does Written than a century ago, the book and its undying theme hold just as much significance even today Intense and compelling, it looks into the darkest recesses of human nature Conrad takes the reader through a horrific tale in a very gripping voice.I couldn t say enough about Conrad s mastery of prose Not a single word is out of place Among several things, I liked Marlow expressing his difficulty in sharing his experiences with his listeners and his comments on insignificance of some of the dialogue exchanged aloud between him and Kurtz The bond between the two was much deeper Whatever words he uses to describe them, no one can really understand in full measure what he had been through In Marlow s wordsNo, it is impossible it is impossible to convey the life sensation of any given epoch of one s existence that which makes its truth, its meaning its subtle and penetrating essence It is impossible We live, as we dream alone This was the first time I read this book which doesn t seem enough to fathom its profound meaning and all the symbolism It deserves multiple reads. Overrated Over hated Over analyzed Over referenced.