The wilderness in the Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad is much more than just a backdrop for the action of the story but is directly related to the title of the book. Throughout the story and through Marlow’s eyes, the wilderness is its own character and that character represents the darkness in every man’s heart. Seeing the wilderness entirely through Marlow’s eyes allows for an interesting combination of fascination and horror. At the beginning of the book Marlow speaks of the blank spaces on the map as “a blank space of delightful mystery – a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over” (8). Marlow expresses that his longing to travel where no one has ever traveled before and to experience true wilderness has always lived deep down inside him and his trip up the Congo River is as close as he will ever get to that. Very quickly Marlow’s excitement about the wilderness turns into a cautious fear. He describes the wilderness when he is at the central station as a “rioting invasion of soundless life, a rolling wave of plants, piled up, crested, ready to… sweep every little man of us out of his little existence” (49). Marlow doesn’t really mean that the wilderness was trying to kill off every man but, maybe what he meant was it was trying to kill every “civilized” man. The natives were a part of nature and fit in because they were simple, “… they had bone, muscle, a wild vitality, and intense energy of movement, that was as natural and true as the surf along their cost. They wanted no excuse for being there” (21). Due to the fact that the pilgrims were civilized and more complex, the wilderness acted almost like a mirror or a reflection of what they truly were and because of that, it was dark and dangerous to them. The wilderness has no structure and there aren’t any restraints upon the behaviors of any of the pilgrims. This environment is so different than the European society that these men are used to that they constantly have to battle to maintain sanity without society or civilization to keep them under control. It is interesting to note that those who “maintained their sanity” stuck out the most in the wilderness such as the chief accountant which Marlow regards highly. “… in the great demoralization of the land he kept up his appearance. That’s backbone. His starched collars and got-up shirt-fronts were achievements of character” (28). This is to say that somehow by maintaining his impeccable appearance the chief accountant at the government station is somehow more in control of his sanity. I would argue that the chief accountant is more like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole because his appearance doesn’t help him at all in the wilderness but yet the European civilization held such an act as admirable. Marlow himself has to face the harsh reality of what the wilderness is showing him; at first he doesn’t mesh at all with the rawness of the natives but then he admits to a remote kinship of “passionate uproar”. He began to sense a connection with the wilderness but he never fully committed like Kurtz did. Kurtz is a great example of what the wilderness brought out in men. As soon as Kurtz let go of society and civilization and succumbed to the wilderness he lost his sanity, at least according to civilized society. The wilderness brings out the savagery and darkness in his heart. All principles and morals of the European society are irrelevant to Kurtz and some of the things he did were so horrible that Marlow couldn’t even bear to explain. “… such details would be more intolerable than those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz’s windows…. I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors…” (98). The full significance of what the wilderness brought out of Kurtz is really the best example in the book of what the effects of a world without rules can create, a monster. Marlow even says “… the wilderness… seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratifies and monstrous passions… this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyond the bounds of permitted aspirations.” (112). The fall of Kurtz isn’t just an example of one crazy guy but yet it is an example of mankind and its desire to raw and savage. The wilderness is more than just a backdrop for the action of the story but yet is an underlying theme that deep down, man doesn’t want the restraints of a civilized society. The natives of the land are happy and so simple that nothing seems to bother them but yet the European men are the ones that are unhappy and pretentious. With this said the last words of Kurtz “The Horror! The Horror!” isn’t just Kurtz looking back on himself but realizing that all mankind’s true desire is to succumb to such a life that he lived; to live a life of savagery and without restraint. Using himself as an example, he realized that a world without rules and a world without restraints would truly be a horror. The wilderness represents the darkness in every man’s heart.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart Of Darkness. 4th. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. 1-77. Print.