On the surface Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a story of adventure, suspense, and mystery, but beneath its literal exterior lays a philosophical undercurrent: the quest towards self-actualization. The novel begins on the Thames River in London where five seamen sit "with silence onboard the yacht" watching the sun set, feeling "meditative, and fit for nothing but placid staring." The adventure is prefaced and foreshadowed by the images created by in the opening pages. The narrator first describes Marlow as a man who "followed the sea with reverence and affection" and compares him to the heroic adventurers of the past, the settlers who sailed before him, and to the greatness that had taken the same path. Something is different about this character and this fact is apparent from the outset, he was "different from his class". Marlow's personal distinction allows for the quest. When he was young he longingly looked at maps with desires to seek out the uncharted lands and he desires to sail to the center of the earth, which turns out to be the center of his soul.
The setting of the novel and the basic plot allow for the quest of self-actualization. The fact that Marlow is on a literal journey to the depths of the African Congo extends to include his metaphysical journey to the depths of his soul. The African Congo permits the journey of self-discovery because it is lacking all external restraint. "Anything can be done in this country" is how Marlow describes it. Humans are free from the forces of civilization and are able to find themselves because there is silence, silence from external restraint. The jungle is literally and figuratively dark which also permits for the self-actualization to occur, as there is nothing but one's self and darkness. Without this silence and darkness the characters would not be able to look into themselves because of the distractions imposed on them by civilization. It is a "region of the first ages a man's untrammeled...
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