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Book Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is quite a famous book about a man’s voyage up the Congo River in Africa. The book was criticized by many notable people of the early twentieth century since it was a direct assault on the grim realities of imperialism and racism carried out by European countries on the defenseless African states.

At the river Thames on an anchored boat, Marlow, a tangible protagonist, recounts his story about the experience and endurance he went through in Africa.

Marlow on boards a French steamship destined for Africa. Having spent thirty days in the sea, he gets down at a huge river basin. He has to travel another two hundred miles to reach the company’s central station where he has to pilot the steamboat up in the Congo River. Next, he catches a small steamboat that departs him after thirty miles; to his luck there he finds the company’s outer station. While staying there in a hut he observes the horrible status of native people – they are into the tedious work of building railway tracks and bombing stones. The local working Africans have been reduced into so scrawny and haggard status that death seems the only liberation for them. Marlow strongly feels the place is just another hell.

At the outer station, Marlow learns about Kurtz’s impressive work profile from a well-dresses chief accountant. Kurtz is a very important agent to the ivory trading company because his share outpaces the others conveniently. To get to the central station, Marlow departs with a set of sixty men to his company. On fifteenth day he arrives at the central station.

The steamboat to be piloted by him has been wrecked two days earlier before his arrival. He meets the general manager who reminds Marlow that he is an important man for the posts located up river. The repairing of the steamboat takes many months, a cause of frustration for him. He learns about Kurtz – all people adore him and believe in his tactics except the general manager. Kurtz is ill, suffering from jungle fever, and Marlow has to relieve him but it will take exactly two months to reach the inner posting where Kurtz is.

Once the voyage commences, they stop at a dilapidated hut where they find a paper note which tells them that the wood is for them and they should travel fast. At the outer of the inner station, a tribe attacks their boat, the helmsman die as a result, and Marlow blows the steam klaxon to scare the native tribes. Soon a Russian wanderer boards the boat and begins praising Kurtz for his tactics and methods that influence the natives and in return he makes good amount of ivory. The Russian praises him for being multi-talented but Marlow thinks of Kurtz as a malicious.

Some men bring Kurtz out from a hut on a makeshift stretcher. He is so deadly ill that he looks like a ghost, all his features are gaunt. The natives surround the area and advance for the battle but Kurtz shouts at them in their language and they all retreat. Kurtz is laid in the cabin and the manager talks to him. Later the manager blames Kurtz for his unsound methods for the company’s loss in this region. Kurtz’s health deteriorates on a return trip, on the verge of death. Marlow too feels the African darkness thus as a result he becomes ill. When the steamboat breaks down midway, Kurtz hands a set of papers, commissioned reports, letters and a photograph to Marlow and advises him to keep the papers away from the company’s people. Before dying Kurtz says the horror, the horror! On the orders of the manager the people on the boat bury Kurtz in a hole on a riverbank.  

Once back in Europe, many people approach Marlow for the papers but he refuses to open. Instead he gives the report to a journalist for a publication. Marlow meets Kurtz’s fiancée and hands her the letters and the photograph sent by Kurtz. She nudges him for information and asks him what the last words were of him, which Marlow says was her name. He lies uncomfortably, though the last words were: the horror, the horror…


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