In Heart of Darkness, how does Marlow change?

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Another significant change is Marlow's perception of civilization and civilized human beings. As the other answers to this question suggest, Marlow begins as a young man with an idealistic view of imperialism as a civilizing force filling in the blank spaces of the map. His view of imperialism changes once he realizes that it is actually a corrupt moneymaking scheme that depends upon slavery and that drives its perpetrators mad. However, this critique of imperialism is also a subtle critique of civilization itself, or, at the very least, civilization as conceived by Western Europeans. While Marlow originally seems to think that civilization is a stabilizing force that harnesses and controls humanity's so-called "barbaric" qualities, he gradually realizes that the "civilizing" project of imperialism is, in fact, utterly barbaric, nothing more than a violent effort to forcibly steal natural resources from other people. Thus, Marlow's experience with imperialism causes him to realize that European civilization, far from eradicating or controlling humanity's violent impulses, actually often relies upon said violent impulses. Accordingly, by the end of the narrative, civilization as a stable system of order is thrown into doubt, and Marlow realizes that "civilized" men are violent and lawless, though they hypocritically pretend that they carry out violence in the name of enlarging the civilized world.

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Marlow tells the story of his journey into the depths of the Congolese jungle in hindsight to the passengers on the deck of the Nellie and elaborates on how his experiences in Africa have drastically altered his view of humanity and imperialism. As a young man, Marlow was enthusiastic about traveling to the "blank spaces" on the maps and wished to visit the enigmatic jungles of Africa. Marlow initially supported imperial conquest and believed that the European nations were positively affecting the world by spreading civilization. With the help of his aunt, Marlow became an employee of the Company and was given command of a steamboat to travel into the heart of the Congolese jungle on a mission to meet the notorious Kurtz.

On Marlow's journey to Africa, he witnesses the Company's inefficient, wasteful nature and meets several unscrupulous, greedy employees competing with others to advance their rank in the Company. At each station, Marlow becomes more and more disgusted with imperial conquest, and he observes everything from slavery to murder. After witnessing the extensive corruption involved in the Company's imperial conquest, Marlow holds onto hope that Kurtz has retained his civility and morality. Once Marlow arrives at the Central Station, he discovers that Kurtz has developed into a fanatical megalomaniac who has been completely corrupted by the depths of the Congolese jungle. After meeting Kurtz and journeying deep into the African continent, Marlow discovers that man is inherently wicked and corrupt when separated from society's laws and institutions. He also is left with a genuine understanding of the destructive nature of imperialism, and his journey has made him an enlightened individual, which is why he is depicted as a meditating Buddha on the deck of the Nellie.

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Marlow's change comes from within, a change in his idealism and his view of the people who work on the African river. At first, he is appalled by the squalor and disease present in the native people, and impressed by the Accountant, who keeps a proper, civilized appearance. However, as the story continues, he realizes that much of the horrors are endemic to the Imperialist mission itself; he sees a French ship firing into the underbrush with no actual target, and realizes that paranoia can drive men insane. Meeting Kurtz is the final blow to his belief system; Kurtz's total lack of empathy and his apparent insanity is contrasted with Kurtz's immense charisma and eloquence, showing Marlow that an educated and civilized man can have a "heart of darkness" and change under pressure. Without social norms, Kurtz's dark heart emerged and ruled his actions; Marlow sees that all men have the same potential, even himself, and his outlook is forever altered.

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