Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

The seaman Marlow travels up the Congo river as the captain of a steamer to find the mysterious Mr. Kurtz, a renowned ivory trader. As he travels up the river he descends into the horrible consequences of the colonial scramble for Africa. As well as a description how brutal and vicious europeans plundered the Congo, it is also a story about morality and the thin line between civilization and savagery. 

"A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness.
The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed
into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth." 

The book starts on a boat at the mouth of the river Thames. A group of seamen are waiting for the right tide, and Marlow decides to tell a strange story from his time in the Congo. So the narrator isn?t really Marlow, it?s one of the unnamed passengers on the boat. It?s a story within a story and the point of view changes from time to time between Marlow and the unnamed listener in the beginning.

The Thames and London is compared to the Congo river and the brutal life in Belgian Congo. Marlow imagines what roman invaders would have thought about the Thames and the English wilderness. How dark and scary it would seem. The roman colonization was not much more than plunder and organized murder. And by saying that he basically sums up the plot for the entire book. Not to mention saying that the western colonial powers are exactly the same. 

"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much."

The main protagonist in Heart of Darkness, Marlow, is based on the author himself. He follows the river upstream into the wilderness, the darkness, to find Mr Kurtz, a notorious boss of an ivory trader station. Among many seemingly random situations described we are shown how the Belgian trading company brutally exploits the african natives. In one scene the company is building a railroad and a bunch of worn out and starving workers are waiting to die. They are discarded as nothing more than used engine parts in a dark ravine.

There is a lot of talk about Mr. Kurtz but we are not introduced to him until the very end of the book. By that time he is larger than life, and it turns out that the local natives are worshipping him like a god. At the same time he is very ill, and therefore convinced by Marlow to return to civilization on his steamer. 

Kurtz is reduced from an all powerful being to a mere voice at the end. He is described as a musician, a painter and someone who could be a great politician of an extremist party. He is also able to convince both himself and others to believe almost anything. He is put up as some kind of super mensch, but at the same time he completely loses the ability to behave morally.  On the way back Mr. Kurtz unfortunately dies after uttering his final words "The horror!The horror!" 

I liked the book, and like so many my first encounter with it was through the movie Apocalypse Now. Because I had seen the movie it seeped into my imagination as I was reading the book. The author does a good job telling the reader of the cruel treatment the natives got. And he also shows the great deal of racism that permeated society. Even though Marlow clearly sympathizes with them he is also still quite racist after modern standards. 

This book was written the during the Scramble for Africa in pre WWI and I realized that this is a period I know very little about. I know some general themes about victorian times, imperialism and the "exploration", or should I say the exploitation, of Africa. But I don't think I've read any proper books about the period. Except that it was mentioned in the biography about Winston Churchhill. So I had to do a bit of reading up to get a fuller picture. And I even did some listening up, if you can put it that way. 
BBC has an excellent podcast about history that taught me a lot about the Berlin Conference in the 1880s, when European powers divided Africa. BBC has an episode about Otto von Bismarck. And last but not least they made a complete episode about Heart of Darkness itself. There they discuss the book, the author Joseph Conrad and many more related topics. Wikipedia obviously has a page about the book. This book has really inspired me to read more about colonialism and imperialism. If you have any recommendations please let me know! 

"I remained to dream the nightmare out to the end, and to show my loyalty to Kurtz once more. Destiny. My destiny! Droll thing life is ? that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself ? that comes too late ? a crop of unextinguishable regrets."

One of the better reviews and analysis of the book I've seen is the Thug Notes. 
Check it out now!

Rating: 4/6
Pages: 100-140 depending on the font size and language.

489 books left!

#HeartofDarkness #JosephConrad #bookreview #bokanmeldelse #history #imperialism #ScrambleforAfrica



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, Notodden

Im interested in the natural world and normally read books about science such as biology, our evolutionary history, astronomy, and general popscience. I occasionally dabble in archeology, philosophy, ancient history, and world religions too. To mention a few interests. Ive also been interested in Diving, Kayaking, and Triathlon for years. Have also done all kinds of martial arts for more than 10 years. Ive now been working for the Norwegian Humanist Association (Human-Etisk Forbund) since 2012.