Change in Heart of Darkness

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Joseph Conrad once wrote, “the individual consciousness was destined to be in total contradiction to its physical and moral environment” (Watt 78); the validity of his statement is reflected in the physiological and psychological changes that the characters in both his Heart of Darkness and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now undergo as they travel up their respective rivers, the Congo and the Nung. Each journey up the tropical river is symbolic of a voyage of discovery into the dark heart of man, and an encounter with his capacity for evil. In such a voyage the characters regress to their basic instincts as they assimilate themselves into an alien world with its primeval dangers. In Heart of Darkness, going up the river is described to be like: “travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, and impenetrable forest … ” (Conrad ?). The river, one which “resemble[s] an immense snake uncoiled … with its tail lost in the depths of the land” (Conrad ?), is “dangerous, dark, mysterious, treacherous, [and] concealed” (Karl 32). When the characters are unable to withstand the various temptations along this passage they helplessly sell their souls to corruption. In both the book and the movie, the various events along each individual journey help illustrate not only the physical deterioration of the environment and the characters’ health but also the psychological degradation of the characters’ conscience and consciousness. In both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the various dramatic shifts in the environment from the onset of the river journeys delineate an increasing barbarity and savagery as the characters penetrate deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. The direction of both journeys are formally established as a movement from “open and boundless to narrow and restricted spaces” (Adelman 66), from the light of the sun into the darkness. Projected towards the wilderness, each journey reflects a voyage into the “gloom of over-shadowed distances” (Conrad ?). In Heart of Darkness, the rivers begin to narrow as the ships approach Kurtz’s compound, and Conrad describes this last section of the river as “narrow, straight, with high sides like a railway cutting” (?). In Apocalypse Now, the river towards the end of the journey is located between steep cliffs on both sides; these men are symbolically trapped within this valley, with no chance of escaping from the many horrors they face. Coupled with the “whirls of broken stumps and flying leaves” (Phillips 146), the swirling ultimately disrupts the peaceful flow of the ship sailing up the river. In addition to these numerous shifts in the ambiance, the events that occur along the respective river journeys also illustrate their advancing into the “heart of an impenetrable darkness” (Conrad ?). In Heart of Darkness, signs of physical fatigue of the crew have escalated along the journey. Marlow first complains of his physical misalignment with his limbs when he reaches the abandoned hut, and later claims to have been “increasingly hungry for at least [a] month past” (Conrad ?) when they fish aboard. In Apocalypse Now, such signs are most evident in the failing luster in the eyes of Willard and his crew, as well as the growing ‘wear and tear’ of their bodies seen in the movie. The physical deterioration can be attributed to numerous events such as the attack of the tiger, which symbolizes the evilness of nature, the ‘fire in the canopy’ caused by supposedly American comrades, and the battle at the Do Long Bridge amidst a ‘confused, hallucinatory, and nightmarish’ atmosphere. Like a pre-planned series of ripples caused by a stone thrown into the water, these events portray rings of...
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