Moral Ambiguity in Heart of Darkness

Essay by kbikkCollege, UndergraduateA-, November 2014

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Addie Zebrowski

Moral Ambiguity in Heart of Darkness

In Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, the character Marlow, through his actions and experiences, shows himself to be morally ambiguous in that he goes on the European's malevolent expedition to Africa yet he seems to despise the events he sees there and in that he performs both noble and ignoble deeds. These experiences and actions drive Conrad's theme of European influence and colonialism corrupting, in this case, Africa. Marlow is a sailor who is traveling through Africa on a steam boat and who works for a company that is attempting to gain riches for Europe. His moral ambiguity is shown by the fact that he is participating in this heinous expedition yet, at the same time, he seems to despise it. Marlow, as he sailed along the coast, saw "a man-of-war anchored off the coast…shelling the bush…There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding… [which] was not dissipated by somebody on board assuring me earnestly there was a camp of natives - he called them enemies! - hidden out of sight somewhere."

(pg.18 ). Marlow's word choice depicts the corrupting influence of Europe because it speaks of how he saw a man-of-war, a French ship, attack natives who were, in his opinion, unjustly called enemies. What truly shows this to be a corrupting influence, however, is his use of the word "insanity" to describe the event; insanity here is meant to show that this event, caused by Europeans, is unnatural to Africa and disrupts its calm. Next, Marlow spoke of other Europeans who came to Africa such as the "devoted band…called…the Eldorado Exploring Expedition… To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire…with no…moral purpose at the back of it" (pg. 42). The Eldorado...