Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Evil and Insanity in the Heart of Darkness

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And this also, said Marlow suddenly, has been one of the dark places of the earth (Conrad, 6). This is the first quote from Marlow and it hints at the evil and loss of sanity in Joseph Conrad¡¯s Heart of Darkness. Evil can be found everywhere in this novella and Francis Coppola¡¯s Apocalypse Now. Both stories narrate a man¡¯s journey inside himself and the discoveries he makes. He confronts his worst fears regarding insanity, failure, and cultural contamination.

Evil itself is an inherent part of every human soul yet it seems to be held back by society. Sometimes this evil side stays inside of us forever and other times it is released when we come upon specific situations. This is clearly illustrated in Heart of Darkness. It is reflected in the setting as the Europeans travel from the Thames River in England slowly down the Congo and the whites slowly crumble and finally some lose their sanity. When Marlow was sent on the mission to find Kurtz, he was also trying to find himself. Kurtz was like Marlow when he first entered the Congo and had good intentions. Marlow¡¯s trip down the Congo represents a journey into his inner soul because as Marlow traveled father down the Congo and from the Outer Station he began to learn more about himself and found himself getting more and more savage. He began to realize that he had more in common with the natives or what the Europeans call savages than with the men of his race. Conrad is trying to say that everyone is a little like Marlow and Kurtz, that they have an evil side to them, but some are able to hide it better than others.

Conrad used darkness to contrast the light of society and how people depend on principles of western society to stay sane and how these principles are threatened by the darkness. The difference between light and darkness is most obvious in this novella. The story starts off with a frame story pattern. Conrad is telling a story in which Marlow and his friends are upon the ship Nellie at sundown. This setting already foreshadows what is to come as Marlow presents his story. The fact that Marlow and his friends are on the ship in the dark of the night creates a sense of evil. It is so dark that Marlow cannot see his friends and it seems that he is telling the story to the darkness itself. Light basically means civilized and dark means uncivilized. The Europeans seem to change as they travel farther down the Congo River until the white men finally collapse as they reach the most inner part of the Congo. The last contrast between light and dark is probably when Kurtz is dying on the boat after Marlow saved him. The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing us down towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress (Conrad, 115); This quote is the final description of savagery and uncivilization as Marlow and Kurtz are trying to escape from the savagery and death of the Congo.

When Marlow first began his journey down the Congo he was very much unaware of everything that was going on. The Outer Station was managed by a group of White Europeans yet it was maintained by black native slaves. We start to see glimpses of evil and darkness as Marlow set foot on shore. The natives are treated harshly and more like animals than humans. ¡°Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth, half coming out, half effaced within the dim light, in all the attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair (Conrad, 6).¡± Marlow came to a grove of trees and found a group of dying native laborers. A bit of European yarn was tied around their necks. He offered a biscuit to one of them and this image troubled him but he did not know what it meant. The setting continued to be dark and dreary as the colors are always black, brown, or yellow. As Marlow traveled farther down the Congo and away from civilization he found that his pre-established ideals about the natives turn out to be far from the truth. Marlow and his crew reach the Central Station where civilization still existed but it was slowly being eaten away by native culture and savagery. ¡°A neglected gap was all the gate it had, and the first glance at eh the place was enough to let you see the flabby devil was running that show (Conrad, ).¡± The closer they moved towards the center of the Congo, the more European civilization was being destroyed. When Marlow finally arrived at the Inner Station, not a trace of civilization was found, for there were no barriers between the Europeans and natives. Marlow realized that he was completely cut off from civilization and his morals were destroyed as he moved deeper into the Congo and past each station. He felt very depressed because he finally understood the cruelty of the world.

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Kurtz himself was very much like Marlow before he first left for the Congo. That is why Marlow had such fascination for Kurtz even before he met him. Kurtz also had morals and standards from European society but that was destroyed as he moved toward the heart of the Congo. Kurtz had lived in the Congo and remained so far from civilization that he had been changed by the natives. He was corrupted by hidden power and seclusion. Kurtz lost his sanity and allowed himself to be worshipped as a god by the natives. Kurtz represents the evil and dark side in every man. It is hidden inside of us and will someday be unleashed. Kurtz¡¯s last words before his death were, ¡°The horror! The horror! (Conrad, 118)¡±

Insanity is closely related to Joseph Conrad¡¯s frequent reference to the light and darkness in Heart of Darkness. Since evil is an inborn trait in all men, Conrad uses darkness to compare the light of European society and how people depend on values of western society to keep sane. The evilness in men is restrained by society but some people allow it to be shown upon certain circumstances. Kurtz once had good purpose when he began his journey down the Congo. Like many others, he was cut off from civilization for too long so he lost his sanity and became savage like the natives. As Marlow traveled down the Congo River, he drifted farther and farther away from civilization. He tried to hold on to his European morals and ideals but found himself becoming more savage as he began to lose signs of civilization and the things that once kept him civilized and sane. Ultimately, many white men like himself finally gave in and lost their sanity. Fresleven is a good example of the changes that civilized Europeans went through when they went to Africa. By western standards, Fresleven was a good man but that makes people wonder how he could have died the way that he did, in a fight over some chickens. Another example of loss of identity and sanity is Kurtz¡¯ Russian Follower. This Russian sailor went to the Congo as a trading representative of a Dutch company but is now a devoted disciple of Kurtz¡¯. When Marlow and his crew went to take Kurtz back down the river, the Russian disappeared into the jungle, free from the rules of Western society like any other native would do. What saved Marlow from being savage and avoiding the same fate as the others is Kurtz¡¯ loss of sanity. He saw what happened to Kurtz after being away from civilization for too long and Marlow understood that he was alone and far away from civilization. Ultimately, I think that Conrad is saying that we can not find sanity anywhere because there is an evil side inside all of us which will cause us to lose sanity if we come in contact with the natural cruelty of the world. We do not want to admit the truth so we create a mask to hide it.

Francis Coppola¡¯s Apocalypse Now also narrates a man¡¯s journey into himself to discover and confront his fears. Captain Willard is similar to Marlow as he was given a mission to go to Cambodia during the Vietnam War to find and assassinate Colonel Kurtz. Coppolas Kurtz was an honored, brilliant, and successful, leader but like Conrad¡¯s Kurtz, he went insane due to corruption and seclusion. The general believed that Colonel Kurtz ran his own private army deep in the jungle in Cambodia and was worshipped like a god by the natives. In Apocalypse Now, it is also illustrated that a civilized man can lose his sanity by being too far away from civilization. For example, Captain Colby was previously assigned for the same job as Willard to assassinate Colonel Kurtz but he joined Kurtz¡¯ troops instead.

Both Joseph Conrad¡¯s Heart of Darkness and Francis Coppola¡¯s Apocalypse Now is trying to show us that the world is an evil thing. We do not want to admit this so we create morals to hide the truth. This is what makes us human but we must know that we are only hiding the truth. Some day we will not be able to hide and the truth will come out so we will be faced with the evil and darkness of this world. We will be faced with the same fate as Marlow and Kurtz.

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