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Heart of Darkness
Transcript of Heart of Darkness
By recognizing Marlow's explanation of his surroundings in a mythological, biblical, and archetypal way, we are able to gain a better understanding of his analysis of his surroundings. Marlow transforms his view of the Congo into metaphysical terms because to him, the people and way of life are not comparable to his normal way of life. By comparing his surroundings to myths and in terms of the Bible, he attempts to gain a higher understanding of right and wrong and the strange world he is living in. In terms of Marlow's comparison to life in the Congo to the levels of Hell in Inferno and archetypal views of light and dark, Marlow uses these metaphysical allusions to justify right/wrong and good/bad.
The use of mythology in Heart of Darkness helps to parallel Marlow's metaphysical exploration, his journey of enlightenment inside himself and ultimately the heart of humankind. These mythological allusions also help to define the "collective unconscious" and shape Marlow's view of the world and society around him.
Allusions to Religion
Haley Baughman, Jordan Butler, Laurna Canty, Maddie Stevens
Heart of Darkness parallels the story of Dante's journey through Hell, especially the fifth circle of Hell.
"The Fifth Circle of Hell contains the river Styx, a swampy, fetid cesspool in which the Wrathful spend eternity struggling with one another" (sparknotes)
The River Styx is similar to the Congo River in HOD because both provide modes of transportation towards an understanding of humanity.
"stepped into the gloomy circle of some Inferno" (p.13)
Marlow descibes the scene of natives worked to death as being a similar sight to a scene from Inferno. The allusion serves to directly paralled the atrocities expereinced by Marlow to that commonly associated with Hell.
"a mighty big river you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled...the snake had charmed me" (p.5)
"something like a lower sort of apostle" (p.9)
Progression of Death and
"a man hanged himself", "decaying machinery" , "black shapes", "pain, abandonment, and despair", "helpers had withdrawn to die", "dying slowly", "black shadows of disease and starvation", "not earthly", "horror-struck"(p.12-14)
Marlow's initial description of the Company's station after his journey down the Congo River. The dark and death related images are reflective of a scene expected of one of the levels of Hell in Inferno along the River Styx.
Through the use of dark, death-associated imagery and morbid diction, Conrad strengthened the connection between Africa and the underworld.
Moral deterioration among people living in the underworld and along the Congo is another parallel that connects HOD to Dante's Inferno
Kurtz is described in a similar way to Lucifer, "prince of the underworld" (sparknotes)
"Lucifer resides at the bottom of the Ninth (and final) Circle of Hell, beneath the Earth’s surface" (sparknotes)
"I felt as though...I were about to set off for the center of the Earth" (p.10)
Kurtz was located at the end of Marlow's Journey (end of Congo River) just as Lucifer was in Dante's Inferno. Marlow commented that he felt that he was heading towards the Center of the Earth, the "Heart of Darkness" referring to Hell or in terms of HOD, where Kurtz lived.
"The upriver stations had to be relieved...did not know who was dead and who was alive" (p.19)
This expresses the idea that as one progressed further down the river, as in Inferno, they experienced more death.
Marlow's connection between his horrifying surroundings and Hell prove not only that he sees the Congo as a place of death and sin but also that he attempts to mentally comprehend and categorize the evil he is experiencing.
Direct allusion to Inferno.
This is an allusion to the serpent (snake) in the garden of Eden. The snake is what charmed Adam and Eve into rebelling against God, and causing the fall of man. The river is what charmed him, it is what caught his attention and what leads him to the fall of "civilized" nature.
When marlow thinks this here it shows his sort of God like status, in the bible Jesus had 12 apostles, and they were ones who were given a mission to carry out, and that is What marlow feels like, given this opportunity to take charge of this steamboat.
Allusions to Religion
"In a very few hours I arrived in a city that always makes me think of a whited sepulchre."
In Matthew 23:27 it states ""What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs--beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people's bones and all sorts of impurity."
It is referring to the religious leaders, people who are outwardly pure but are intrinsically polluted with deceit. This suggesting that the Company is inwardly corrupt, and deceitful.
"Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha." (76)
Marlow is made equivalent to a spiritual figure, and not just any figure but one that teaches others things such that they might learn and in turn be enlightened.
The River Styx
The boundary between Earth and the Underworld
The Congo vs The Styx
Symbolizes Marlow's journey
Orpheus and Eurydice
Traveled to Underworld to find his love, unable to bring her back to the living
Forsook the company of man, forbidden to return to the land of the dead
"He was a seaman, but he was a wanderer, too" : Marlow is bound to the sea
"He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion.."
Marlow's journey was "bookended" by the death of Fresleven and Kurtz
Control the metaphorical "thread of life"
"two women...knitting black wool"
Other Myths and Parallels
Jupiter, Roman King of Gods
"...the thunderbolts of that pitiful Jupiter"
Negative human emotions: jealousy, vengeance, and power-hungry.
Buddha: teacher, enlightening
Astrea, Greek goddess of justice: "a woman, draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch"
Word for people embarking on a religious journey for spiritual reasons (ironically "enlightenment" is one of the reasons for imperialism)
"Several had still their staves in their hands"
An archetype is a universally known symbol, pattern, or term that is used or copied in varying stories; such as the "hero" or the "villain". Carl Jung advanced the idea of an archetype when he defined them as universal; showing that the experiences and emotions formed typical patterns that usually had the same probable outcomes. The archetypes in Heart of Darkness help to show Marlow's advancement in the understanding of the world around him and the idea of good versus evil and the humanity of mankind.
Examples of Archetypes
Previous Captain killed, opportunity arises
Goes to the "heart" of Africa, in search of Kurtz, the good in imperialism
Crossing the Ocean (going to a "New World", the 1st threshold of Dante's Inferno
"New World": unknown, spiritual mystery
Absent of "light" = racism, dark needs to come to light
Light vs Dark
"However, I was going into the yellow"
Russian "with bright patches, blue, red, and yellow"
between good and evil
The human embodiment of everything evil (Kurtz)
Kurtz doesn't realize his darkside of humanity until he is about to die "The horror!"
"The word ivory in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it"
Almost supernatural, hypnotizes Kurtz into submitting his soul
"He declared he would shoot me unless I gave him the ivory..." (p.50)
"showed that Mr.Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts, there was something wanting in him." (p.52)
As Marlow progressed through the Congo and through the passing of time, the loss of moral throughout the novel is similar to the progression of sins in Inferno and the lack of value for the human life.
savage sight...lightless region of subtle horrors...pure uncomplicated savagery" (p.52)
"Dark human shapes could be made out in the distance, fitting indistictly against the gloomy border of the forest."(p.55)
This shows thr progression of darkness, typical in Inferno, that occured throughout the novel.