In Joseph Conrad's book Heart of Darkness the Europeans are cut off from civilization,
overtaken by greed, exploitation, and material interests from his own kind. Conrad develops
themes of personal power, individual responsibility, and social justice. His book has all the
trappings of the conventional adventure tale - mystery, exotic setting, escape, suspense, unexpected
attack. The book is a record of things seen and done by Conrad while in the Belgian Congo.
Conrad uses Marlow, the main character in the book, as a narrator so he himself can enter the
story and tell it out of his own philosophical mind. Conrad's voyages to the Atlantic and Pacific,
and the coasts of Seas of the East brought contrasts of novelty and exotic discovery. By the time
Conrad took his harrowing journey into the Congo in 1890, reality had become unconditional. The
African venture figured as his descent into hell. He returned ravaged by the illness and mental
disruption which undermined his health for the remaining years of his life.
Marlow's journey into
the Congo, like Conrad's journey, was also meaningful. Marlow experienced the violent threat of
nature, the insensibility of reality, and the moral darkness.
We have noticed that important motives in Heart of Darkness connect the white men with
the Africans. Conrad knew that the white men who come to Africa professing to bring progress
and light to "darkest Africa" have themselves been deprived of the sanctions of their European
social orders; they also have been alienated from the old tribal ways.
"Thrown upon their own inner spiritual resources they may be utterly damned by their
greed, their sloth, and their hypocrisy into moral insignificance, as were the pilgrims, or
they may be so corrupt by their absolute power over the Africans that some Marlow will
need to lay...