Heart Of Darkness Essay, Research Paper
Heart Of Darkness
Whether a reader connects to the symbolism of Heart Of Darkness or is merely reading it for fun, one cannot go away from this story without a lingering feeling of uneasiness. Joseph Conrad writes what seems to be a simple story about a man in search of an ivory hunter; one must look deeper into the jungle which makes up the core of Heart Of Darkness , where Conrad hides the meanings and symbolisms that shape this story.
Conrad has been accused of being a racist because of the way he portrays the natives in this story. It is a controversy that continues even today. It can be argued that because of the way he depicts the natives, they cannot be an essential part of Heart of Darkness. However, if one reads between the lines it is obvious that the story would not be shaped the way it is if the natives were not involved. The natives in a sense create Kurtz. They are his “people” and his followers:
Suddenly round the corner of the house a group of men appeared, as though they had come up from the ground. They waded waist-deep in the grass in a compact body bearing an improvised stretcher in there midst. Instantly in the emptiness of the landscape a cry arose whose shrillness pierced the still air…And is if by enchantment streams of human beings – of naked human beings – with spears in their hands, with bows, with shields, with wild glances and savage movements, were poured into the clearing by the dark-faced and pensive forest. (58-59).
The first time Marlow meets Kurtz is in this scene. It shows Kurtz not only depends on the natives for physical support but also for protection. Conrad’s portrayal of the natives as “human beings with wild glances and savage movements” is ironic because Conrad does not think they have the right to be put on the same level as the white man even though Kurtz could not exist without them. The natives are Kurtz’s followers and worship him like a god and yet they are seen as only a part of the jungle that is “dark” and “undiscovered”.
One scene in Heart of Darkness, which unquestionably shows the lack of respect the natives are given, is when Marlow is at the Company Station on his way to the Congo. He describes the natives as “ants” which are decomposers. Marlow is describing the natives as creatures that do nothing but break down and destroy the land. When Marlow tries to get away from this scene of natives he steps “into a gloomy circle of some Inferno…Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair…They were dying slowly…they were nothing earthly now, nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation lying confusedly in the greenish gloom.” (20) Marlow characterizes the natives as “unearthly creatures” that have been abandoned from society. It has been accepted that they do not deserve to live like regular human beings. They must live in “abandonment and despair” because they are criminals. Marlow depicts them as slowly rising out of the earth as if they were horrid creatures that only come out in the darkness because no one can bear to see them in the daytime. Marlow also describes the natives as “bundles of acute angles sat with their legs drawn up…one of these creatures rose to his hands and knees and went off on all-fours towards the river to drink. He lapped out of his hand, then sat up in the sunlight crossing his shins in front of him, and after a time let his woolly head fall on his breastbone.” (21) This is utter degradation of a human being. At this point, one does not even see the natives as human anymore. They have been described not only as acute angles but also as dogs that lap up their water on all fours. How more degrading can one be to a race of people?
The one distinguishable native in Heart of Darkness is the helmsman. Although, he is not important enough to be given a name, he is given a title, which is a step above his comrades. He is “an athletic black belonging to some coast tribe…He sported a pair of brass earrings, wore a blue cloth wrapper from the waist to the ankle, and thought all the world of himself. He was the most unstable kind of fool I had ever seen.” (45) Marlow’s first impression of his helmsman is not any kinder than his opinions of the other natives he has come in contact with thus far. He belonged to “some coast tribe”. Marlow did not care enough to find out the name of his tribe or anything else about him; he simply saw him as another creature. Marlow’s reaction to his helmsman is ironic because like Kurtz’s natives, he needs his helmsman in order to continue his mission. The helmsman is also the one who dies while they are journeying up the river. He dies because of Marlow’s lack of knowledge of how to handle himself in the Congo. When they are being attacked, Marlow and the rest of his crew immediately start firing at the primitive arrows which are being shot at them, and the helmsman is the only one who finds an arrow in his chest.
We two whites stood over him…it looked as though he would presently put to us some question in an understandable language, but he died without uttering a sound, without moving a limb, without twitching a muscle. Only in the very last moment as though in response to some sign we could not see…he frowned heavily, and that frown gave to his Black Death mask an inconceivably sombre, brooding, and menacing expression. The lustre of inquiring glance faded swiftly into vacant glassiness. (47)
Marlow and his crew obviously care about his death from this passage. It is not something they take lightly. The helmsman meant a lot to them, not only because he provided direction, but because he showed the crew that black men could hold a place of power and be needed just as much as anyone else. This event provided an important lesson Marlow needed to learn. Marlow shows his true feelings about the helmsman when he admits that he “missed him even while his body was still lying on the pilot-house. Perhaps you will think it passing strange this regret for a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in the black Sahara…he had done something, he had steered…he steered for me – I had to look after him.” (51) Here, Marlow shows his first sign of seeing a black man as valuable. He realizes how important the helmsman was to him, not only because he steered for him, but because he had created “a kind of partnership” and a “subtle bond” with the him which was “suddenly broken”. This is the only time throughout the book that Marlow creates any type of bond with someone outside of his own race. This is the one native that is able to come out of the darkness and be a part of the “civilized” world.
There are many other components that make up Heart Of Darkness other than the natives. One could write a book on this novel and still not have grasped everything Conrad intended to hint at in the jungle he created. Every word means something in this story. Every syllable is important in understanding what Conrad was trying to say in Heart Of Darkness: Do not let the darkness suck you in because you will never come out again.