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A Journey into the Heart of Darkness

The white man is evil, or so says Joseph Conrad in his novel Heart of Darkness, which describes the colonial transformation of the symbolically angelic African wilderness into an evil haven for the white man.  The novel presents a psychological journey into the core of evil or “heart of darkness” in one’s own mind, as he or she progresses through the jungle. The reader follows Marlow, the novel’s narrator, along such a journey.  His psychological changes as he approaches the heart of darkness are evident, as the reader observes, in his views of the African natives, lying and Kurtz.

Marlow is an honest man.  He sets out on a genuine search for answers to his questions of exploration of the unknown “when (he) was a little chap” (Conrad 64).  Marlow was drawn to a certain place on the world map, called the Congo “the biggest, the most blank, so to speak—that (he) had a hankering after” (Conrad 64). Upon first entering the mouth of the Congo River, Marlow declares his stance on lies and those who lie.  [He believes that lying in the worst thing for a person.] He vows never to lie in his life.  After reading Kurtz’s report about his progress down the Congo, Marlow finds that Kurtz lied, and in part loses all the respect he ever had for Kurtz.  However, Marlow still continues to pursue him.

Marlow continues his journey up the Congo River, penetrating further and further into the heart of darkness.  In the process, Marlow reverts back to his innate state to survive, whether or not that means going against his principles.  Finally, 200 miles later, Marlow meets Kurtz, who is the object of his psychological desire, only to find him very ill.  After Kurtz’s death, Marlow finds himself transformed into a person he thought he would never become, a liar.  Marlow lies to Kurtz’s intended about Kurtz’s last words when he returns to Europe. After being consumed by the heart of darkness, Marlow throws away his previous values as he reverts into a savaged, almost evil state of mind.

Though honest, Marlow is a prejudiced man; he is the epitome of colonialism.  Going into the Congo, Marlow views the natives as prehistoric evils in desperate need of white influence and civilization. Throughout the physical journey, Marlow is confronted with the natives time and time again, seeing them chained as slaves, living in a village and attacking his own steam boat. Marlow holds fast his prejudiced view of the natives, referring to them as savages or even worse something so derogatory as “niggers'” (Conrad 65), until halfway through his journey.  While drifting up the Congo, Marlow and his crew encounter a group of native on the shore. Instead of demeaning the natives, Marlow wishes he could join the natives in their primative behavior.  Such a desire is a great step in the progress of Marlow’s psyche. His desire to join the natives demonstrates his consumption by the heart of darkness, as he reverts back to a more savaged state of being. Furthermore, Marlow encounters Kurtz’s mistress, a native, and describes her with awe and respect.

Finally, Marlow makes a radical change in his view of Kurtz in between his setting off on the Congo and his arrival at the Central Station.  Upon hearing of Kurtz, with all his credentials and successes, Marlow finds himself awed at Kurtz’s profile, saying that Kurtz and his crew were “no colonist; their administration was only a squeeze; they were conquerors. It was just robbery by violence, agravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind-as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness” (Conrad 63).  Marlow, from the very beginning, develops a need to find Kurtz.  However, as Marlow travels deeper and deeper into the jungle and furthermore into his own mind, Marlow hears of Kurtz becoming ill, lieing and using conniving methods to gain success.  By the time Marlow reaches Kurtz, he is overcome with dignity and respect for Kurtz’s ability to survive.  Once disgusted by his unfair practices, Marlow finds himself respecting the epitome of all evil.

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