Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness The Real World

Essay by comscitutor May 2004

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In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad relies heavily on the differences between appearances and reality to develop conflict in the story. From the appearance of the ivory trade and the continent of Africa, to the image of Kurtz himself, Conrad clearly shows us that appearances can be deceiving. As Marlow relates his story, the reader is drawn into a world of contradictions. These contradictions challenged the widely accepted European views of that time.

When Marlow begins his quest to sail his ship up the Nile river to partake in the adventure and excitement that is the ivory trade, he describes the enterprise as a "noble cause" (pg 6). Marlow's aunt called him "an emissary of light, something like a lower sort of apostle" whose purpose was to "' [wean] those ignorant millions from their horrid ways'" (pg 10). Yet through Conrad's use of diction, our first image of the ivory trade is an image of darkness, death, and despair: "pieces of decaying machinery" (pg 12) "shadows of disease and starvation" "picture of a massacre or a pestilence" (pg 14).

This may have been a harsh criticism of the British colonialism in Africa, and revealed the hypocrisy of those in the ivory trade who claimed to be civilizing the savages: "It was as unreal as everything else-as the philanthropic pretense of the whole concern ... The only real feeling was a desire to ... earn percentages" (pg 21).

Throughout the story, the African jungle is presented as a dark and alien landscape with "the lurking death, ... the hidden evil, ... [and] the profound darkness of its heart" (pg 28) of an "unknown planet" (pg 32). To Marlow, while he was in the heart of the African jungle, the "earth seemed unearthly" (pg 32). Yet, as he ventured deep into...