The Congo River: The Defeat

Essay by OhhBoy5784College, UndergraduateB, May 2007

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The Congo River began as dark and horrific to the reader as the story began totake place. Marlow first described the shore as a dark and unending jungle of trees. Tothe virgin eye, the jungle would seem like a horrific place. However, the horror on theCongo River and the expedition itself was not only apparent in the environmentalsurroundings. When Kurtz utters his last words, the reader can make sense of the horrorthat Kurtz is referring to. He had even stated that his great plan had gone awry.

However, if Marlow had uttered the same words, he might have encompassed more in hismeaning. In Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, Marlow undergoes a series of horrificevents that leads him into the darkness of the Congo.

As the story opens, Marlow tells the reader of his passion for maps andexpedition. Marlow has always been fascinated by the Congo River on the map ofAfrica.

Marlow recalls that there was a big concern for a company for trade on thatparticular river. He calls upon his aunt, a very powerful woman, to set him up with anappointment with the company. Oddly enough, Marlow is appointed a position to steerone of the steamboats. However, the reason behind Marlow receiving the position soquickly was due to the prior captain being killed in a scuffle with the natives. The reasonin which Marlow was appointed was due to a horrific event. This entire expeditionbegins with a horrific occurrence of death. Ironically, Marlow is so thrilled aboutheading this steamboat that he refers to the death of the prior captain as a “gloriousaffair.” Marlow is callous to the fact that his trip begins with death. Marlow also doesn’tfind this death as a forewarning either.

Once Marlow arrives at the Congo River, he begins to see more of the horror thatKurtz refers to in his last words. Marlow’s first description of the slaves that line theriver contains words such as ‘grotesque’ and ‘violent.’ Marlow was never frightful ofthese men but the sight of them was horrific. “They were dying slowly-it was veryclear…nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation…” (Marlow 14). Marlowstates that he was “horror-struck” while watching these men in the jungle. Thisconfession shows that Marlow does have underlying feelings towards everything that heencounters.

The horror not only occurs around Marlow but also occurs within him. Thereader is well aware that Marlow thinks very highly of Kurtz even though he barelyknows anything about the man. However, Marlow states that his feelings for Kurtz are sostrong that he would even lie for him. “You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear alie…simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavor of mortality in lies”(Marlow 23). To find lying as such as abhorrent quality, and then to go as far as to lie forsomeone barely known is extremely horrific. Kurtz is such a powerful man that he canmake Marlow, a stranger to some degree, break everything that he believes in for him.

As the book progresses, Marlow seems to become more and more callous to thehorror that occurs around him. While traveling upstream to visit Kurtz, their ship isattacked by the natives that surround the river banks. One of his crew members is hitwith an arrow and falls to the ground directly in front of Marlow. Instead of feelingsympathetic or trying to console the dying man, Marlow continues to stand in his placeand stare down at the man as the blood fills his shoes and socks. At the same time inwhich this crew member has died, another member of the crew assumes out loud that Mr.

Kurtz is probably dead by this point in time. Instead of feeling remorse for the man thatjust died at his feet, Marlow feels sorrow towards Kurtz because he will “never hear thatchap speak after all…” (Marlow 43).

Perhaps due to all of the horror that Marlow has come across during his time inthe Congo made him callous and neutral to the horror around him. Marlow noticed thehorror and accepted that it was happening, but rarely ever gave an opinion about what hesaw. In the end the horror has overcome Marlow and the Congo has won taken his spirit.

Marlow could have had a chance to redeem himself. As Marlow meets with Kurtz’swife, he tells her that the last word that Kurtz uttered was her name. She needed thesolace and Marlow did admit that he would lie to Kurtz if need be. However, he had noreason to lie for Kurtz. He could have wiped his slate clean of all of the horror that wasrevealed to him. The Congo River has defeated Marlow and that is the horror in itself.

BibliographyConrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Penguin, 1999.