Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, was written around 1890 in a time where imperialism was common practice. The subjugation of other countries and nations was common for countries to do and was accepted as a normal process by the people of the dominant countries. From this society Conrad’s main protagonist emerges, Charles Marlow. Marlow is in essence a normal man from England, but as the story progresses he becomes anything but normal. Throughout the book the reader can see Marlow's "change," as caused by his exposure to the harsh and primal world that is the Congo. This change is minimally on a physical level and mostly on physiological and intellectual levels. Conrad emerges from the jungle a changed man, with new views on the world around him and many new views on the people in it, many of whom he was just like before his trip. Conrad’s change and his travels were interesting on a literal level concerning the cruelty seen in the jungle and the journey he went on to find Kurtz. But it was not Conrad’s intention to simply write an entertaining bildungsroman but instead provide a tale of a man looking inward at the naivety of his society and the darker potential of man. Throughout Heart of darkness it becomes clear that the deeper Marlow travels into the Congo the deeper he goes into his own mind. Marlow starts off the story in a small ship, one of unremarkable qualities but has a few men on board it. They are the ones who will listen to Marlow’s tale of the Congo, who will hear how he was changed in those dark woods. Thusly the beginning of the book is also in essence the end, it starts off with Marlow in the future recanting how he was changed in the past and made him who he is in the present. Marlow is asked by "the company", the organization for whom he works, to travel to the Congo River and report back to them about Mr. Kurtz, a top notch officer of theirs. When he sets sail, he doesn't know what to expect.
Heart of Darkness is a story of one man's journey through the African Congo and the "enlightenment" of his soul. It begins with Charlie Marlow, along with a few of his comrades, cruising aboard the Nellie, a traditional sailboat. On the boat, Marlow begins to tell of his experiences in the Congo. Conrad uses Marlow to reveal all the personal thoughts and emotions that he wants to portray while Marlow goes on this "voyage of a lifetime". Marlow begins his voyage as an ordinary English sailor who is traveling to the African Congo on a "business trip". He is an Englishmen through and through. He's never been exposed to any alternative form of culture, similar to the one he will encounter in Africa, and he has no idea about the drastically different culture that exists out there.
Throughout the book, Conrad, via Marlow's observations, reveals to the reader the naive mentality shared by every European. Marlow as well, shares this naiveté in the beginning of his voyage. However, after his first few moments in the Congo, he realizes the ignorance he and all his comrades possess. We first recognize the general naiveté of the Europeans when Marlow's aunt is seeing him for the last time before he embarks on his journey. Marlow's aunt is under the assumption that the voyage is a mission to "wean those ignorant millions from their horrid ways"(18-19). In reality, however, the Europeans are there in the name of imperialism and their sole objective is to earn a substantial profit by collecting all the ivory in Africa.
Another manifestation of the Europeans obliviousness towards reality is seen when Marlow is recounting his adventure aboard the Nellie. He addresses his comrades who are on board saying: "When you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents of the surface, the reality--the reality I tell you---fades. The inner truth is hidden luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching over me at my monkey tricks, just as it...