You fellows know there are those voyages that seem ordered for the illustration of life, that might stand for a symbol of existence.
Discuss this statement in light of your understanding of Conrad's novella.
The voyage is one of the oldest conventions in storytelling. In fact, it dates back as far as our earliest classic texts. One of the most famous literary journeys took place 3000 years ago, as the subject of Homer’s The Odyssey. The hero, Odysseus, struggles to return to his home in Ithaca following the Trojan War. Even earlier journeys are described in the Bible—the journeys of Abraham and Moses to the Promised Land.
Since then writers have used the journey to represent man’s passage through life. The journeying character almost always learns something important or changes in some significant way over the course of the journey. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad depicts a journey that sets the main character, Marlowe, on a path of discovery.
Marlowe travels up the Congo River in search of Kurtz. Along the way he discovers that Kurtz has changed, becoming an evil, twisted man. This reflects on the larger theme of the effects of European Colonialism in Africa. Kurtz’s situation is really just a way of looking at the effects of the white man’s efforts to control and profit from Africa.
By presenting the story as a journey, Conrad is able to show how Marlowe discovers the truth in stages, just as we do in our own lives. Although we might not actually take a dangerous journey in a foreign setting, we still journey metaphorically as we grow in experience and knowledge—Marlowe does this in an accelerated fashion on the river. The is the “illustration of life” that Marlowe sees on his journey.
Keep in mind that there are different interpretations of Heart of Darkness. Some see the story as a complex indictment of racism, while others think that it is actually racist itself. Sophisticated stories often elicit widely different reactions from readers.