Cultural Collisions in Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"

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Shiloh Gilbert
April 8, 2010
There is an abundance of literature in which characters become caught between colliding cultures. Often, these characters experience a period of growth from their exposure to a culture that’s dissimilar to their own. Such is the case with Marlow, Joseph Conrad’s infamous protagonist from ‘Heart of Darkness’. Marlow sets off to Africa on an ivory conquest and promptly found himself sailing into the heart of the Congo River. Along the way he is faced with disgruntled natives, cannibals, and the ominous and foreboding landscape. Marlow’s response to these tribulations is an introspective one, in which he calls into question his identity. This transcending of his former self renders the work as a whole a sensation point of view of European expansion that was a sporadic subject of Conrad’s time.

Marlow faces many problems throughout his expedition but is able to remain placid in the midst of chaos and overcome the evils he is faced with. Additionally throughout this prevalence Marlow is able to develop opinions about his landscape and self through self-reflection. As the steamer they are aboard is attacked by natives and his own helmsman is slaughtered at his feet, Marlow is able to collect himself and succeeds in scaring them away. As Marlow tranquilly pours the blood that has seeped into his shoes out, he reflects on his aspirations for coming to Africa and all the danger he is faced with. He realizes his responsibility to the men on board the steamer and to himself to see through the voyage he has commenced. Meeting Kurtz is another occurrence which renders Marlow into a ponderous state. Throughout the entire novel Marlow hears many things about Kurtz. Some praise him as a great man, such as the Harlequin and the Accountant do, and others envy and distrust him, such as the Manager of Kurtz’s station and the two men walking that Marlow eavesdrops on. With each word spoken about Kurtz, Marlow becomes increasingly anxious to meet...
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