Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness

By S. Hanford

Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness is much more than simply “the story of a journey up a river.” Although it was first published in 1902, the text contains perennial themes that remain relevant to a 21st Century audience today. Through his writing, Conrad cleverly expresses his views on colonisation and imperialism, explores the depth and concept of the inner journey, and comments on society’s need for some form of restraint. Conrad draws on his own personal experiences to accurately convey both the inner and literal journeys of the boat. As a 21st Century audience, we gain insight into Conrad’s beliefs and the effects that isolation and lack of restraint have on individuals.

One of the major themes in Heart of Darkness is colonisation, which relates to imperialism in modern times. The context of the novella lies in a period when colonisation was popular and very widely accepted, therefore Conrad had to exercise caution when expressing his views on the issue, often lacing his comments with irony and satire. The first hint a reader gains that his view on colonisation is negative is in the opening section, when “the air was dark above...condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.” The darkness looming above civilisation is a stark contrast to the calm imagery used to describe nature, suggesting that civilisation has negative connotations, and the reference to London can be read as being wrapped in sarcasm. By using Marlow as a vessel for his ideals, Conrad is able to insert his own observations out in the Congo, where “there are no external checks” and racism isn’t contained. When reading the novella from a post-colonialist perspective, the audience can easily identify the beliefs disguised in his writing. For example, when walking down the path, Marlow is spotted by the black worker who upholds the pretence of appearing to be working diligently, and Marlow...
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