Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, is one of the most well known works among scholars of classical literature and post-colonial literature. Not only is it thought provoking and exciting, but also considered to be one of the most highly stylistic in its class, blending its use of narrative, symbolism, deep and challenging characters, and of course a touch of psychological evaluation that Conrad is well known for. To get a full grasp of the novella, one must first understand the history behind the Congo and its colonization by the Belgians.
As a result of ruthless colonial exploitation, involuntary servitude, and direct violence, the native people live in an impoverished state. As many as six million Africans died during the brutal rubber trade, overseen by the Belgians. Many are forced to be "carriers," for people on jungle expeditions that need to move cargo from one place to another. These packages they carry on their backs, on rough footpaths through the jungle, weigh between 40 and 70 pounds. There are few, if any, breaks to stop and rest. It is a hard life, but this history sets up the action behind the drama in this book, as far as helping to smuggle ivory out, or carry supplies into the jungle nation. The recurring theme of darkness (a symbol for the reality of the society) and fear perpetuate the action, and utimatly envelops the characters that struggle with this dilema such as Kurtz. The message is the same however: colinization destoys at the native peoples expense, close-minded European views perpetuate racism in these nations, and evil is a driving and yet sometimes unnoticed force.
Joseph Conrad was born in Berdichev, Poland in 1874. He first became familiarized with the English language at the age of eight, because his father translated works of Shakespeare and Conrad became interested in them. He was a very smart child, and did quite well in school. He further studied in Cracow and Switzerland, but his love for the sea beaconed him to explore, sail, and learn a new style of life. In 1874 he took a job on a ship, and thus begun his lifelong fascination for the sea and sea travel.
After traveling around the world a bit, he got involved in gunrunning in the West Indies. He liked to gamble, and because of this addiction he racked up huge debts which led him to attempt suicide. His brush with death opened his eyes, and he then realized that changes needed to be made in his life. In 1878 he found himself in England, where he spent the next 16 years of his life in the British navy. This had a profound impact on his writing, and it really developed and deepened his passion for the sea. However, his sense of adventure had not yet faded away, and he found himslef in 1889 as a captain of a steamboat on the Congo River. He always wanted to go to Africa, and was drawn to her like his passion for the sea. His experiences there are what inspired Heart of Darkness (1902), and many people do not realize that he knew the Congo well, and actually spent some time of his life involved in the conflicts of the land.
Conrad later returned to England in 1891 and worked as a sailor til 1894. He then retired from sailing and spent the rest of his life writing. He married, had two sons, but lived on a modest budget. He was a poor, and frequently got into trouble, but kept on writing. Finally he received some recognition for his work in 1910, and this is when his financial situation began to improve. However, his health was failing, but his pen grew stronger. He kept on writing and became quite popular in England. They even wanted to knight him in 1924 but he refused. He died that same year.
Conrad's contribution to the world of literature is profound and indifferent. Many people see him as just another writer, but to those who study post-colonial literature he can be seen as a beacon of hope and truth. He is telling the story so people can see what...