Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. First Published 1899. Published 1973 by Penguin BooksWhy?I chose to read the Heart of Darkness as I had heard much good about Joseph Conrad and his other books. My father told me that Conrad is regarded to be one of the best authors of all time, language-wise, and this really peaked my interest. I have also seen and really liked the movie Apocalypse Now which is based on this very book. This combined made me prefer this book to the other two choices.SummaryThe story centers around the sailor Charles Marlow, who while onboard a moored ship on the Thames River outside London, tells the narrator about his journey up the Congo river. He quickly establishes a parallel between the two rivers and uses them as representations of Britain and the “dark” Africa. Marlows was assigned by a Belgian company trading ivory in Congo to take charge of a stranded steamboat in the interior. Moving deeper into the treacherous jungle, he travels from the Outer- to the Central -Station and then onwards by the boat to his destination, the Inner Station. Along the river, he witnesses the exploitation of African natives by Belgian traders and hears tantalizing rumors of a particularly successful ivory trader, Mr. Kurtz, who is managing a trading station far up the river. Mr. Kurtz is supposedly unwell and according to some rumors insane but Marlow moves onwards to meet him as his curiosity has been awakened.The passage through the African heartland, by steamboat, is long and slow. Marlow is filled with a growing sense of dread as the boat is attacked by African natives, killing some of his crew. Incrementally, Marlow learns more about Kurtz. He finds a well-written pamphlet regarding the civilization of the natives, but also hears about his god-like status with the natives. Upon arrival Marlow concludes that, in his isolation, no longer restricted by his own culture, Kurtz has gone insane, become a local tyrant. His honor and any humanitarian values he initially had upon his arrival in Africa have been exchanged for greed and power. His reign of terror is soon to end, however, as Kurtz is mortally ill. On his deathbed, Kurtz whispers to Marlow, “The horror! The horror!” seemingly acknowledging the human depravity they have witnessed, the heart of darkness. Marlow returns to Belgium to deliver Kurtz’s papers to the trading company with a report he had written for “The Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs” but with Kurtz’s handwritten postscript “Exterminate all the brutes!” ripped off. Last of all he visits Kurtz’s fiancée, leaving out his descent into madness and lying to her about Kurtz’s final words, saying he died proclaiming her name.CharactersCharles Marlow is a sailor, presented by the narrator as a seaman and a wanderer, having become wise and philosophic as a result of his experiences in Congo. When young, Marlow dreamed of exploring the “blank spaces” on the map, always longing for adventure. His journey up the Congo, however, was anything but a thrill and it taught him about the “heart of darkness” in all men. The chief qualities of Marlow are his curiosity, skepticism and truth-seeking. He is looking for an underlying meaning in what others may see as an innocent remark. In spite of this, he does not always put truth above all e.g. as he ultimately lies to Kurtz’s widow to spare her feelings. Furthermore, he chooses to return to his home in Europe, despite being convinced by what he saw in Congo that the modern civilization is a facade hiding mankind’s inner darkness. As shown by his initial phrase “And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth.”Through the progression of the story, Marlow becomes more aware of his surroundings and the “darkness” they may hide. On his arrival to the Central Station and even more so at the Inner station he is shocked by the utter disregard for human life he sees. This makes it difficult to integrate back into the European society.Where and when?The exact time is not stated in the book, but it seems to take place at the time Conrad is writing in, namely the 1890s. This assumption is supported by the fact that Marlow is based on Conrad himself, who was a steamboat captain in the interior of the Congo during the early 1890s. He wrote the book immediately after his return. During this time, European nations were especially focused on African colonization and trade. Heart of Darkness centers around the substantial ivory trade along the Belgian ruled Congo river. The novel illustrates the European view of native Africans during that time and exposes it as faulty. They were viewed as savages who needed to be brought under control, and certainly not as people. ThemesThe main theme of Heart of Darkness is the exploration of evil. Marlow is searching for something true and righteous in the hypocritical and malicious colonial Congo where the natives are treated like animals and the Europeans are corrupt and inefficient in their work. This is highlighted when Marlow arrives at the Central station and observes the building of a railway.”I saw the black people run. A heavy and dull detonation shook the ground, a puff of smoke came out of the cliff, and that was all. No change appeared on the face of the rock. They were building a railway. The cliff was not in the way or anything; but this objectless blasting was all the work that was going on.”Marlow’s objective is Kurtz and he believes that he must endure the trials and testings to finally reach enlightenment and a better understanding of himself. This goal gives him the strength to push on further into the darkness. When he finally arrives at the Inner station he is crushed; Kurtz is more evil, greedy and cruel than anyone Marlow has previously met or heard of and this leads to the realization that the core of man is darkness and evil. As he looks at Kurtz shortly before he dies he sees the horror on his face:”It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror – of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of supreme knowledge?”To Marlow Kurtz appears to be both the embodiment of evil and having reached deeper wisdom. He is obviously both sane and insane. Kurtz dies believing that he is a god who possesses everything he sees.AuthorJoseph Conrad was born in 1857 to Polish parents in Ukraine and was raised and educated primarily in Poland. His novels are often based on his own experiences on merchant ships in the French and British marines, especially on the isolated and remote places he visited. Conrad also had a large interest in moral conflict and the darkness in humans which combined with his own experiences lay the foundation for his literary work. Many of Conrad’s books started out as being serialized in magazines to later be published in the complete form. This was the case for Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim, as well as many other of his books. Joseph Conrad died in England on August 3, 1924.Personal ThoughtsHeart of darkness was a very interesting read. It is very well-written but at the same time it is not a book you can read while thinking of something else as the book often does not give you clear answers but instead highlights the hypocrisy and human faults where you yourself have to make an opinion on what the underlying meaning is. Even when the book appears to be moving towards a climax as Marlow approaches the Inner station you are met with a short section where nothing major seems to happen. Marlow is faced with the evil and insane Kurtz who at the same time has broken free from the shackles of the maybe equally evil imperialism and the company. Kurtz also appears to have somewhere in his madness found some deeper meaning in his life while on his deathbed which makes it difficult for Marlow to hate him.Yes, I would recommend Heart of Darkness but only to someone who I felt would appreciate the thoughts and questions that arise in the book and I would not recommend it to the average reader.