One need only look at the themes in Conrad's Heart of Darkness to find that the book is as relevant today as it was when Conrad put pen to paper.
This short novel's themes include:
- Alienation and loneliness
- Order and disorder
- Sanity and insanity
- Duty and responsibility
- Doubt and ambiguity
- Race and racism
- Violence and cruelty
- Moral corruption
We can identify all of these issues as characteristic of human behavior as long has man has walked the earth. When one group exerts its power and control over a weaker group, all of these elements are present. Look to the Middle East and Africa (as in the novel), in recent years in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Darfur, the Sudan, etc., to find insanity, deception, disorder, violence and cruelty, moral corruption, etc.
As an example of order and disorder:
Sudan has been at war with itself for almost its entire post-colonial history, starting in 1956.
Even after Muammar Gaddafi's death and the deterioration of his government, the government of Tripoli has be unable to...
...reconcile groups with long-running grievances...[and has failed] to bring many of the militias that deposed Gaddafi fully under its control.
There is not much difference between these kinds of situations and those in Heart of Darkness. Atrocities were carried out upon the natives of the Congo—
They were dying slowly—it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now—nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation...
Leopold II of Belgium, who owned the region, ordered violence to stop because of international pressures expressed by England and other European nations. Leopold cared only for wealth he could bring to his nation upon the backs—even the lives—of the enslaved natives.
And how can one learn of the mass murders of the people of Darfur (where it is estimated that several hundred thousand may have died) and not find a similarity with those maimed (losing hands or feet) or countless others (including women and children) murdered in the Congo, bodies thrown in rivers—serving as mass graves, in the late 1800s.
At the end of the novel, after Marlow
has discovered Kurtz
in the innermost ("Inner") station of the Company, he reflects upon all he has seen as madness has overcome Kurtz throughout his time in the jungle, and now lies close to death:
...it seemed to me as if I...was buried in a vast grave full of unspeakable secrets. I felt an intolerable weight...the unseen presence of victorious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrable night.
For the nature of deception is the presence of powerful, perhaps even dangerous, secrets. Corruption attracts and/or breeds insanity, doubt, immorality, cruelty and disorder. The darkness here is in the unspeakable acts carried out against other human beings because of greed, racism, hatred, and moral corruption.
It is easy to find similarities between Conrad's Congo and the world at large today. Violence still exists; people fight to oppress and control others; despots carry out diabolic plans that reek of instability—insanity. Heart of Darkness is still relevant today. It is incomprehensible—as Kurtz says while dying:
The horror! The horror!