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Heart of Darkness

by Joseph Conrad

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Does Marlow show any concern about work?

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Marlow’s attitude to work creates the basis of his reflections on progress, civilisation and colonialism. His work ethics is extremely developed and puritanical, in a sense: he likes being active and solving problems, and he seems to think it is our precise duty to work efficiently. Work saves him many times in the novel because it allows him not to “look too much into the darkness.” When his boat breaks down at the Central Station, he reverts to work to avoid talking to the ambiguous manager and to focus on his mission; he also uses work not to fall prey to the power of the “wilderness” around him.

Of course, his view is ambivalent: he basically focuses on work when he does not want to probe his own self and others’; in the end, he will not be able to escape his fate of exploring the deepest recesses of the human soul and dissecting the subliminal desires of a European culture he belongs to. At the beginning, the effort to colonise, or rather, to “civilise” Africa is hidden behind the protective screen of efficiency - which takes us back to his work ethics. However, at the story proceeds, we understand that this is only a maddening enterprise to export the malaise of a civilisation. Very interestingly, Marlow admires the immaculately-dressed accountant at the Outer Station for his pristine books and “backbone” but he does not fail to notice that beside them the black slaves are senselessly and horribly dying.

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