How does the forest change people in Heart of Darkness?
The reference to the forest changing people comes from towards the beginning of this novella, when Marlowe imagines what it would have been like for Roman soldiers to leave their civilisation and to suddenly have to cope with life in very different circumstances: in a barbaric outpost of the Roman Empire, coping with lawless savages and freezing conditions. Note how he refers to how this might have impacted such individuals who were struggling to adjust to their new location:
Land in a swamp, march through the woods, and in some inland post feel the savagery, the utter savagery, had closed round him--all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no such initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable.
The word "savagery" is repeated twice to emphasise the impact that these surroundings would have had on such soldiers, living so far from home. Marlowe likens it to living in "the midst of the incomprehensible." It is no doubt therefore that living under such radically different conditions, away from what elsewhere Marlowe describes as the conditions of civilisation that keep men in check, would change and impact such individuals. The parallel is created between Roman soldiers coming to Britain and also colonial Europeans going to the heart of Africa. Both are shown to be very similar in terms of the impact that the "utter savagery" of the wilderness has on them in terms of the ability and freedom to do anything they want to and to give in to the savagery that they see in their surroundings.
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