What are external and internal conflicts in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In "Heart of Darkness" the internal and external conflicts are intertwined with Marlow's trip into colonial Africa. Initially seeking adventure, Marlow is looking forward to taking a journey up the Congo River to find Kurtz, a man whom he initially admires. However, during the trip, Marlow encounters many external conflicts that begin to change Marlow's internal beliefs. His journey is a difficult one and the external conflicts Marlow sees are horrific. He sees a French ship shelling the bush country but there seem to be no humans in sight. He sees naked black men dead and dying of disease. He boat is fired upon by supporters of Kurtz. Finally, when Marlow meets Kurtz, he finds a man whom he can no longer admire. He sees and feels how low man can sink into corruption. Internally, Marlow is disgusted. Then he takes Kurtz, who is dying, back down the Congo. Kurtz has become his "choice of nightmares". When he hears Kurtz's last words, "The horror, the horror". Marlow assumes that Kurtz has seen the consequences of his actions and resumes his loyalty to Kurtz. But seeing the horrors of Africa changes Marlow. At the beginning of the novel, he says he hates lies. However, one year after returning to Belgium, he sees Kurtz's fiancee and lies to her, telling her Kurtz died with her name on his lips. He lies in order to prevent her from seeing the same kinds of horrors he witnessed in Africa. Thus, his external voyage has affected his interior beliefs.