The Conflict between Truth and Ideals in "Heart of Darkness"

Essay by colonial237University, Bachelor'sA-, November 2003

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The Conflict between Truth and Ideals in "Heart of Darkness"

The story "Heart of Darkness", by Joseph Conrad, is concerned as much with the journey into the "darkness" of man's soul as it is with the literal journey into unknown lands. The protagonist, Marlow, describes the moral dilemmas that outweigh the physical ones to his confidantes upon his return to England. Propelled by a lifelong curiosity over the "blank" spaces of the Congo, Marlow ventures into the Congo as a poised voyager. Throughout his journey, Marlow's ideals of western influence conflict with the moral and physical ruins which he finds along the Congo. In his quest to meet his predecessor, Kurtz, Marlow is forced to examine his worldview and admit the contradiction between the truth and his ideals.

Throughout the story, we are introduced to a bevy of characters representing different outlooks. However, the personal conflict Marlow faces gives the story its depth and crisis.

Marlow appears to take pride in civilization and noble conquest. However, the narrator foreshadows Marlow's inner conflict by saying that, for Marlow, "...the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel, but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out in a haze." (Pickering 285). Most of Marlow's journey centers on the character of Kurtz, however, it is not Kurtz's behavior that causes the conflict. Before meeting Kurtz, Marlow paints a picture of him as a brilliant pioneer. However, most of what Marlow hears about Kurtz is diluted or false. What manipulate the epiphany for Marlow are the events surrounding his search for Kurtz, which illuminate his distortion of reality.

A critical source of conflict for Marlow comes from his ideas of civilization versus savagery. For Marlow, the European conquerors represent civilization, which...