Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now Essay

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ENGLISH EXTENSION ESSAY – Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now

The dark core of human nature has been a timeless notion, explored and extrapolated by many literary critics. Both the core text, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and it's film appropriation, Apocalypse Now directed by Francis Ford Coppola, ignite interest as to question whether humans are essentially creatures of dark nature when stripped down to bare essentials. When these are linked to values of greed and hunger for power and domination, these forces emerge through extreme characterization. Furthermore, through the manipulation of the setting, one can also see the dark forces are reflected in the surroundings. Under the guise of civilisation, the central characters pursue domination of the cultures they have invaded and the ramifications of this behaviour is reflected in the themes of madness, absurdity of evil and loss of spiritual centre. A post colonial reading of these texts would explore the idea that "power and knowledge gives the Wests the power to name people, places and cultures and control them." - Edward Said Orientalism 1978

The value of imperial domination is explored in Conrad's Heart of Darkness through the character Marlow and Kurtz. The novel was written during the time of New Imperialism where European countries were in conflict with one another, trying to claim African territories known as the "Scramble for Africa." This context is reflected in the novel when the narrator, Marlow, thinks aloud in, “Now when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all the glories of exploration... when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, When I grow up I will go there." This shows the innate want and need to dominate in European culture, expressed through accumulative listing. Furthermore, the use of high modality language in "I will go there" coupled with the act of possession in putting a "finger on it" further heightens this notion. 

The descent into darkness is reflected through the setting as the characters journey closer to the river. "There it is before you—smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid, or savage, and always mute with an air of whispering, Come and find out." Through the use of personification and asyndeton, the jungle is presented through Marlow's eyes to be enigmatic and insidious which foreshadows the meeting with Kurtz and mental distress that follows. 

Exploitations of the natives through European domination are exhibited when Marlow recalls his first sight of human life within the jungle as "this scene of inhabited devastation". The connotation of “devastation” reveals the drastic state that the natives live in, further explored when they are described as "mostly black and naked, moved about like ants." The comparison of the natives to "ants" symbolises their objectification as menial slaves who can be easily disposed of.  Also, the inversion of natural imagery of the sun being a source of power and comfort, it is described instead to be "a blinding (sun)light (that) drowned all this at times in a sudden recrudescence glare." The negative connotation of "blinding", "drown" and "glare" all imply the evil nature of the environment and its inhabitants. 

When Marlow nears Kurtz’ site, he comes across one of Kurtz’ soldiers, and he describes him as having "seemed to take me into partnership in his exalted trust. I also was a part of the great cause of these high and just proceedings." The irony that Marlow believes he is part of a "great cause" that is "just" is presented here, shows his blurred sense of moral judgment.  In conjunction to develop further this notion, Conrad uses the smoke to symbolise the distorting impact of imperialism on Marlow’s moral sense. The smoke that comes from the Winchester’s dated guns symbolises the violent and aged...
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