Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

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What are the major themes in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad?

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Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is set primarily in Africa and the narrator is of European descent, so of course there is the element of race in this story. Marlow does not seem to be any more or less racist than anyone else, which indicates a prevailing attitude of racism rather than a particular prejudice by one or two people. While the whites consistently refer to the black natives with pejorative and ugly names, they do not speak out of anger or derision. In fact, Marlow says he feels a thrum of connection to these wild, dancing, gesticulating people. Instead, there is a sense that the whites see the blacks merely as undeveloped humans--nothing to scorn but also nothing to particularly admire or appreciate. This is best demonstrated by Marlow's willingness to give a dying black man a biscuit and then casually dismissing the death of his black helmsman as  

a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara.

Though he misses the man's function on his ship, he does not mourn for the man because he is black and therefore not worth mourning. Ironically, of course, so many of the black natives are more moral and honest people, despite their savage ways, than the white, Imperialist encroachers. The issue of race, value, and human worth is one theme in this story. 

Another important theme in this short novel is madness. There is something about this mysterious, hot, and thrumming continent which is enough to create disorder in the minds of Marlow and his men. As early as chapter one, Marlow feels this:

The idleness of a passenger, my isolation amongst all these men with whom I had no point of contact, the oily and languid sea, the uniform sombreness of the coast, seemed to keep me...

(The entire section contains 615 words.)

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