What is the main point of Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness?Does it have something to do with a secret within human beings? I am trying to understand why Marlow kept the secret of everything...

What is the main point of Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness?

Does it have something to do with a secret within human beings? I am trying to understand why Marlow kept the secret of everything he saw with the men who killed, destroyed and lied (because of their avarice) to get ivory. What point is Conrad trying to make?

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Joseph Conrad wrote his novel, Heart of Darkness, he had personally traveled to many locations around the world. Specifically, one trip made a special impression on him:

In 1890 Joseph Conrad secured employment in the Congo as the captain of a river steamboat.

Illness forced Conrad to return home, but he had seen a great deal in the region that was then called the Belgian Congo, run by King Leopold II of Belgium; the river was called the Congo. Today, the river is called the Zaire, and the region, free of Belgian control, is known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

One of the themes of the novel is "moral corruption." There are several others, but of all of the themes, the one that is at the center of the story, for me, is the theme of moral corruption. So many of the other themes are the result of the corruption that breeds within the Belgian Congo of that time, at the hands of whites abusing the natives.

While the alleged "philanthropic" mission of entering the Congo was to bring civilization and Christianity to the natives, it was really about harvesting the natural resources of the region. In this novel, ivory is the primary export, and there is a great deal of money to be made by doing so, while the white men of the Company exploit the natives. This was what Conrad witnessed.

I believe that greed and moral corruption are what drive the characters in the story to become so uncivilized. Marlow sees this first hand, and it appalls him. When Marlow's character is shaken by what he witnesses, I believe this is Conrad's description of his own experiences.

If I were to identify Conrad's main point in the story, it would be that besides the darkness we may find in our environment (a jungle, the night, depression), the true danger lies in the darkness that lies within each human being. The age-old battle of good vs evil is not always fought between individuals, but is often times the conflict of man vs himself: when a person struggles with who he chooses to be as a human being, allowing light to dominate or darkness.

In Conrad's novel, Marlow, ironically, does not perceive Kurtz as a wholly evil man: he believes the man is sane, but his soul is not. Marlow can even, to an extent, identify with Kurtz, and finds him a fascinating person. The difference between the two men, however, is that Kurtz has given in to the darkness within him, and it has consumed him. Marlow, on the other hand, resists: he is not unaffected by the horror he sees: horror driven by the avarice of men. The experience changes him; however, when Marlow visits Kurtz's fiancee at the end of the story, the light in his heart is still intact: to save her pain, he lies, telling her that Kurtz's last words before dying were of her.

Conrad's tale is one of warning: every man must make certain to repress the heart of darkness within—the uncivilized man. For if this is not done, chaos reigns, as seen with many of the leaders of the Company, and certainly with the damaged, suffering soul of Kurtz. Conrad seems to write that "the wages" of this kind of sin are death: physical or emotional/psychological. Kurtz's true last words summarize the depth of the damage he has suffered: "The horror! The horror!" For how can man consort with evil and not be damaged?

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Heart of Darkness

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