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Heart of Darkness Critical Essay

By jmk19942013 Feb 27, 2013 708 Words
Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, is a work of complexity. “His stories often represent and suggest more than they say” (Skinner). Conrad gives the novel a perplex side through his tactfully written words. This unique language that Conrad uses gives a sense of duality to many phrases in the novel. The double meanings of much of the language that Conrad uses contribute to a reoccurring aspect of the novel, which is that often times there is far more substance to something than appears on the surface. This theme is played out in the novel through the setting and through the two main characters, Marlow and Mr. Kurtz.

The novel takes place right in the heart of Africa, down the long and windy Congo River. The river in the setting is a crucial component of the novel because it brings a sense of darkness. “Conrad manages to hint at the darkness beyond the senses and to represent the experience of struggling with the impossibility of existential revelation in various ways, in terms of both content and form,” because not only does he describe the river’s topography, but also describes the river as having a mind of its own (Skinner). When describing the river, Conrad writes, “the long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances”(Conrad). This description of the river creates an image of a vast and gloomy river. However, Conrad’s use of personification gives the river a personality, as if it is vulnerable to the dark surroundings that it’s engorged within.

In the novel, Marlow’s spoken words also possess a sense of duality. On the outside, Marlow seems like a composed gentleman, who takes little regard for emotions. He speaks in a matter of fact manner, describing everything that he sees in its purest form. When conveying his thoughts about Kurtz he says ,“He was just a word for me. I did not see the man in the name any more than you do”(Conrad). Marlow’s description of Kurtz at first seems merely a factual statement, but it means more than that because “there is what is not said because it is merely left unstated (Skinner). The understated nature of his words suggests that Marlow is struggling to compress everything that he feels about Kurtz into a sentence. Furthermore, when Marlow says, “I will be loyal to the nightmare of my choice”, the reader obtains two meanings from his words (Conrad). On the exterior, Marlow simply means that he will not betray Mr. Kurtz, but on the interior, he is trying to express that he will not let go of the desire that he had to meet Mr. Kurtz, even though the experience strayed far away from his original expectations.

Conrad also uses Mr. Kurtz to showcase his way of writing phrases that contain different depths of meaning. Mr. Kurtz is an individual who unknowingly lost sight of his own self because of the heart of darkness in which he is enwrapped. He is unable to blatantly express how his greed and feelings of superiority over the natives have tarnished his character. Therefore, Conrad gives depth to the words that Kurtz speaks, to allow the reader a glimpse into Kurtz’s heart, without needing to have Kurtz deliver his personal sentiments. Towards the end of the novel when Kurtz cries, “save me!” he literally is pleading for the salvation of his ivory, but figuratively, it’s a plea for someone to save his soul. “The Horror! The Horror!” are Mr. Kurtz’s notorious last spoken words. On the surface, these words may appear to be describing the face of death, but it seems plausible that Kurtz’s is instead horrified with himself for the way he has so cruelly treated the natives, and that abominable images of the native’s oppression are flashing before his eyes.

The duality in meaning of Conrad’s words not only contributes to the complexity of the novel, but also helps to develop the setting and the characters. Conrad’s “unsaid dialogue and narrative hint at layers of meaning beyond what is read, and Conrad's explicit and implicit insistence on mysteries beyond words emphasize the unsayable”(Skinner). These techniques that Conrad uses allows the novel to transcend past a simple narrative.(Singer)

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