Heart of Darkness (1899)

The story

The novel is set in the late 1800s and is a story inside a story, providing an embedded storyline. This is due to the fact that the story in the book takes place during a conversation between unnamed narrator and his companions on a ship anchored somewhere near the entrance of the Thames. After the storyteller has told the history of the Thames, a sailor named Charles Marlow enters the fray. When Marlow starts talking, England fades away, and Marlow’s adventure begins. He informs the crew that he had visited Brussels, the capital of the Belgian empire. He’d apply for a position with an ivory trading company here. It was this firm that sends him to the Belgian-run Congo Free State to serve as a river steamboat captain.

This is not a happy story; rather, as the title suggests, it is a gloomy one. Things that we would consider bad in the twenty-first century, such as racism, are represented in a number of ways. Marlow, the protagonist, sees the colonial exploitation of Congo and European greed. When he arrived in the Congo, he saw firsthand how Belgians built railroads by forcing Africans to labor all day in the searing heat until they died. This is quite certainly the most horrific portion of the book. The rest of the narrative, though, isn’t quite rosy either.

At this location, he is also informed of his new assignment: locating a missing Mr Kurtz, one of the company’s top ivory collectors. Thus Marlow had been tasked by a corporate executive with tracking down Mr Kurtz, who was hiding out at a trade station somewhere up the Congo River deep in the central African jungle. So he begins his trip upriver into the heart of darkness, into the map’s blank uncharted areas. The longer he travels upriver, the further he travels from ‘civilization,’ and with each curve, the darkness increases. This voyage takes months due to transportation problems and other roadblocks. During his travels, Marlow begins to doubt and reflect on European civilization; he begins to question his moral compass, and the novel urges readers to contemplate with him on what is occurring in Africa and whether or not what Europeans are doing is civilized. Marlow ultimately finds Mister Kurtz, but things do not go as planned.

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad (1857-1922), also known as Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, was born in 1857 in Berdychiv, a hamlet in modern-day Ukraine that was located in the western region of the Russian Empire at the time. Conrad’s father opposed the Russian empire and desired the re-establishment of a Polish state; however, Conrad was not very interested in this, and in 1874 his uncle sent him to Marseille to serve aboard a merchant vessel. Conrad himself loved this; he aspired to be a sailor after reading numerous novels on journeys and lost expeditions, such as those by John Franklin (1786-1847). In 1890, he was employed by the Société Anonyme Belge pour le Commerce du Haut-Congo, a corporation that conducted business in the Belgian-run Congo Free State.

It’s conceivable that the narrative of Heart of Darkness is inspired by Conrad’s personal experiences. Around the 1890s, Conrad, like Marlow, worked on a river steamboat in the Belgian-controlled Congo Free State. As a result, the events he narrates are very certainly a dramatized rendition of real-life occurrences. It is also commonly accepted that the Congo Free State was not a colony that respected human life. Belgian King Leopold II (1835-1909) ruled over the Congo Free State as his own private colony. Leopold II is well-known for his authoritarian leadership in Congo. Rubber production in Congo has resulted in a disregard for human life and the construction of massive rubber plantations.

The land in the Congo Free State was divided into concessions in which individual businesses and persons were granted the right to use the area; this system was known as the régime domanial. However, because all land that was not sourced out was deemed state property, Leopold owned the majority of the land used for rubber production. This approach was enormously profitable, but also horrifyingly brutal. Thousands were forced to work under appalling conditions, and those who fell behind were cruelly tortured and had their hands cut. If you want to study more about Congo, I recommend Congo a History by historian David van Reybrouck (1971).

“The horror! The horror!” Mr Kurtz

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Jay or nay

The book is quite good; it reads smoothly and draws you into the tale quickly. Joseph Conrad succeeds in engrossing the reader not only by narrating a narrative in ordinary language, but also by depicting a diverse cast of people. Marlow is not the only character in this novel; along the way, he meets and learns about the lives of the people who live along the river, in the jungles, and on the outposts.

In addition to the foregoing, the narrative provides a window into the past; it does not depict the past with complete truth, but there are glimpses of what was. As a result, as a history buff, I would say it is a really nice book. This is due to the fact that it depicts the horrors of nineteenth-century imperialism. Conrad’s critical remarks and eyebrow-raisers are pretty entertaining. The tale also touches on his participation in it all, but he also shares the Congo Free State’s story with the rest of the globe.

It is often easy to claim in retrospect that we would be different, that we would not have done what they did, but this novel asks if we would have acted differently than Marlow or Conrad. My guess is no, since even in this day and age, we do things that we will be ashamed of in the future. As a result, before passing judgment on another person’s conduct, be conscious of your own flaws.

So, in the end, I conclude that this book causes you to reflect on what civilisation and civilization entail. It also makes you think about how individuals adapt in different settings. Heart of Darkness also presents the reader to certain terrible historical truths. As a result, one may claim that it is a well written book. So the answer is that you should read it, it is just 110 pages long.


Written by Joseph Conrad (1857-1922). Introduction by Verlyn Klinkenborg (1952)

110 pages. Everyman’s Library

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