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The Heart of Darkness

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Eric Davis

on 7 October 2013

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Transcript of The Heart of Darkness

Kurtz originally came to civilize the Congo, but soon becomes obsessed with Ivory. In the end everything he does is motivated by this desire, the white ivory becoming his white whale. Why? It wasn't about the money or he would have sold it instead of hording it like he did. One possible reason is pride. When Kurtz lost faith in his original goal, the only thing left was the ivory trade. As long as he was successful at that, he hadn't failed. Soon enough it consumed him. Eventually we hear him described as almost being made of ivory. "The wilderness had patted him on the head, and, behold, it was like a ball— an ivory ball"(p.48) "It was as though an animated image of death carved out of old ivory had been shaking its hand with menaces at a motionless crowd of men made of dark and glittering bronze."(p.59)
Kurtz & Ivory
Absurdity in: The Heart of Darkness
What IS the darkness?
What do we know about Kurtz. What are the ramifications of what he has done?
What is important about the setting? How does it drive the story?

The Setting Driven Story
How do we define "light" and "dark?"
What is important about the ivory?
A school of Philosophy closely related to Existentialism and Nihilism
Believes it is humanly impossible to find value and meaning in life, creating disharmony between the individual and the universe
Still believes in the search for meaning
Should embrace the absurd condition of humankind
Both serious and mundane experiences are equally important
"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you" -- Friedrich Nietzsche
Focuses on the individual
Places emphasis on morality and meaning in life
Charles Marlow
Often confused with Existentialism
Believes that the search for meaning is futile
Life is without meaning or value
"The man presented himself as a voice...the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness...We are too late; he has vanished...Absurd? Well, absurd...This is the worst of trying to tell..." pg 47.
The Heart
What is "The Heart"?
Man's Heart
Man's desires
Society's Heart
Society's Desires
The Heart of Darkness
The Darkness
What is "The Darkness?"
Does it vary by character? If it does, how so?
Much like the setting, the darkness has a presence in the novel that is strong. Could it also be considered one of the story's characters?
19th Century Congo
Belgian controlled in later years.
The setting drives the narrative. Marlow goes to Africa for adventure, and it even leads him on a quest to find Kurtz
The setting plays an effect on the narrator--it comes as the source/force of fear, mystery, and so much more.
"But the wilderness had found [Kurtz] him out early, and had taken a terrible veneance for the fantastic invasion" (pg 57)
Absurdity of Marlow
"I flung one shoe overboard and became aware that that was exactly what I had been looking forward to - a talk with Kurtz" pg 46
Kurtz becomes Marlow's meaning and wants to hear what he has to say
"I understood better the meaning of his stare that could not see the flame of the candle but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up-he judged. 'The horror!'" (69)
"The dusk was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly [...] 'The horror! The horror!'" (75)

Marlow's Roles:
Marlow is the reader's window into the Congo. He seems like he is conflicted about some of what happens, and he may not be a reliable narrator.
Marlow's experiences are our only way of knowng what might have happened to Kurtz, who seems to have entered the Congo in much the same fashion.
Marlow and Kurtz are very much alike. They are both come from decently wealthy English families. They both consider themselves above those around them. We are meant to understand that by observing how the Congo impacts Marlow, we can understand how it might have impacted Kurtz.
Absurdity of Light and Dark
"the dusk fell on the stream and lights began to appear along the shore [...] Lights of ships moved in the fairway-a great stir of lights going up and down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars" (8-9)
"The dusk was falling [...] She came forward in all black with a pale head, floating towards me in the dusk [...] The room seemed to have grown darker as if all the sad light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead. This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me" (72-73)
Interchange between Light and Dark
"His face was like the autumn sky, overcast one moment and bright the next" (53)

"The edge of a colossal jungle so dark green as to be almost black, fringed with white surf, ran straight [...] The sun was fierce, the land seemed to glisten and drip with steam. Here and there greyish, whitish specks showed up[...] settlements" (16)
The jungle
The Russian/Harlequin
"One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, 'I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.' The light was within a foot of his eyes." (68)
"The dusk came gliding into it long before the sun had set. The current ran smooth and swift, but a dumb immobility sat on the banks [...] It was not sleep-it seemed unnatural, like a state of trance." (41)
Defining "light" and "dark" is difficult
In the novel, definitions defy standard characterization
Varies depending on where and to whom or what the descriptions of "light" and "dark" are attached
Instances where both "light" and "dark" are at work
Understanding Darkness Through Light
Two types of direct light are given:
Flickering lights (as seen through the bringing of civilzation), and Unextinguishable lights (as seen in Kurtz's love):
"Light came out of this river since--you say Knights? Yes, but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker--may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday." (pg 5-6)
"But with every word spoken the room was growing darker and only her forehead smooth and white remained illumined by the unextinguishable light of belief and love." (pg 74)
Light, then, may come from different sources, but it is strongest--not temporary or fading--in belief and love since it is "unextinguishable." This line could then interpret light to be, in its simplest, "belief and love."
Darkness may thus be interpreted as Light's opposite by being unbelief and selfishness. Suggesting that civilization may have had some ideals of belief and love, but were extinguished by the unbelief and selfishness of their missions.
The Effects of the Setting
On Characters
"I tried to break the spell, the heavy mute spell of the wilderness that seemed to draw him to its pitiless breast by the awakening of forgotten and brutal instincts, by the memory of gratified and monstrous passions. This alone, I was convinced, had driven him out to the edge of the forest, to the bush, towards the gleam of fires, the throb of drums, the drone of weird incantations; this alone had beguiled his unlawful soul beyond the bounds of permitted aspirations... Believe me or not, his intelligence was perfectly clear--concentrated, it is true, upon himself with horrible intensity, yet clear, and therein was my only chance--barring, of course, the killing him there and then, which wasn't so good on account of unavoidable noise. But his soul was mad. Being alone in the wilderness, it had looked within itself and, by Heavens I tell you, it had gone mad." (pgs 65-66)
"Forthwith a change came over the waters, and the serenity became less brilliant but more profound. The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth." (pg 4)
"The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness." (pg 77)
Effects of the Darkness
Darkness Blinds
"...I said with something like despair in my heart, but bowing my head before the faith that was in her, before the great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the triumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her--from which I could not even defend myself." (pg 75)
Darkness Deceives
"...he lived as much as he had ever lived--a shadow insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightful realities, a shadow darker than the shadow of the night, and draped nobly in the folds of a gorgeous eloquence." (pg 73)
"...'Men looked up to him--his goodness shone in every act.' ... 'He died as he lived.'
" 'His end,' I said with dull anger stirring me, 'was in every way worthy of his life.'" (pg 76)
"I know that the sunlight can be made to lie too, yet one felt that no manipulation of light and pose could have conveyed the delicate shade of truthfulness upon those features." (pg 72)
It maddens...
If the word heart was changed--to core; center; etc.--how would this change the meaning?
to the Heart of Darkness
"The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there." (pg 35)
"...the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and the most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light or the deceiftul flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness." (pg 47)
"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. And Kurtz's life was running swiftly toom ebbing, ebbing out of his heart into the sea of inexorable time." (pg 67)
"The vision seemed to enter the house with me--the stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of the reach between the murky bends, the beat of the drum regular and muffed like the beating of a heart, the heart of a conquering darkness." (pg 73)
"The off was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky--seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness." (pg 77)
"The vision seemed to enter the house with me--the stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of the reach between the murky bends, the beat of the drum regular and muffed like the beating of a heart, the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which it seemed to me I wuld have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul." (pg 73)
How might the setting relate to "the darkness?"
Is the setting an allegory for "the darkness?"
Is it a literal "darkness"--suggesting that Africa itself is "the darkness?"
The Setting and Absurdity
As Marlowe goes deeper into the jungle, things become more absurd
Reacts the same way towards a variety of situations
"Even extreme grief may ultimately vent itself in violence - but more generally takes the form of apathy" pg 43
"I was not so shocked as you may think" pg 57
The setting might be considered one of the story's characters. How does this idea affect your interpretation of the work?
The Setting appears to have some source of power. Why? When does it have power? Always or under certain circumstances?
It conceals...
Coastal area heavily influenced from Portuguese, war, and Christianity in earlier centuries during the "Kingdom of the Kongo"
Period of growth in the economy and society of parts of the more coastal parts of the country
Country was divided between different powers and saw rise of clans and violence as well
Drawn from Wikipedia
What theme can be drawn from this inclusio?
It kills...
It distorts the light...
What do these references tell us about the heart of darkness? How does each one describe it? Do they represent it the same way? If not, how are they different?
What might be meant by Marlow's recognition of light as being "belief and love?"
How does this definition for light and darkness affect the interpretation of the story as a whole?
Of the colonizing of Africa?
Of Kurtz's death?
Of his love's blindness?
Of Marlow's reactions?
"'And this also,' said Marlow suddenly, 'has been one of the dark places of the earth." (pg 5)

What is suggested here by "has been?" Why not 'was' or 'had been'?

Which place is he talking about? Longdon? Africa? If London, what does this suggest about the idea of 'civilzation as a light?'
Unlike Marlow, Kurtz originally came to the Congo with the intention of civilizing the people there through colonization. We hear about the paper he wrote for the Society of Suppressing Savage Customs. However, after spending time in the Congo and seeing it for himself, he has amended this essay with the footnote "Exterminate all the brutes!" Kurtz's time in the Congo has clearly had an influence on him.
"I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless regionof subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief" (58)
The City
"always makes me think of a whited sepulchre" (13)
"A narrow and deserted street in a deep shadow, high houses, innumerable windows with venetian blinds, a dead silence, grass sprouting between the stones" (13)
The Jungle
The City
appears black
settlements appear white/grey, provide contrast to the jungle's darkness
the unknown
"black" as where the "uncivilized" live
"uncomplicated savagery"-man's natural state? a bad thing?
"Whited"-implies the city was not innately white; hidding something
"sepulchre"-tomb, dark and dreary but when paired with "whited" becomes something somber yet nicer
"narrow and deserted streets" and "dead silence"-lonely, isolation within civilization, goes against "white" appearance
Dusk as an intermediate between "light" and "dark"
"trance"-momentary state of balance
represents understanding;
points in time where knowledge is about to be revealed?
gaining of knowledge for Marlow
The Russian
knowledge-the Russian has learned from Kurtz
"light"-knowledge once assumed to be true
"dark"-knowledge gained
occupies space between "light" and "dark"
not an true antagonist in the story
"light" and "dark" are not "good" and "bad"
what was his final judgment?
knowledge-source of angst
"Marlow's lean face appeared worn, hollow, with downward folds and dropped eyelids with an aspect of concentrated attention; and as he took vigourous draws at his pipe it seemed to retreat and advance out of the night in the regular flicker of the tiny flame" (48)
like the Russian, has learned from Kurtz
has come to a realization
struggling with this realization
cause of angst for Marlow
Main points
Questions to Consider
Setting-the jungle, the city
Characters-Kurtz, Marlow, and others
Themes-light and dark, absurdity/existentialism
What We Know about Marlow:

We aren't really told a lot about Marlow's personal life. Here are some of the things we do know.
He is traveling to the Congo because it fascinated on maps as a child.
He says he does not like lies.
Still "follows the sea".
He spends much of the book wanting to meet Kurtz after hearing so much about him.
Absurdity in the Heart and the Darkness
The journey into the heart is a search for meaning
The darkness around them is human incompetence in the search for meaning
The light and the dark create a visual representation of the disharmony amongst the universe, a disharmony which may or may not exist
Both the light and the dark experiences should be acknowledged as two sides of the same coin
The light and dark extremes should be accepted as all a part of the human experience, as categorizing the world in terms of extremes does not always conform to reality
Absurdity in Kurtz
Other Important Characters:
Marlow's Aunt
Marlow's aunt helps him get the job as a riverboat captain. She sees his journey to the congo as an opportunity for "Weaning those ignorant millions from their horrid ways." Marlow must remind her that the company is for profit.
Though darkness seems to be an almost omni-presesnt corrupting influence in the story, Kurtz is almost certainly one of the darkest characters in the book. Much like his drawing which Marlow finds, he attempted to be the torch bearer bringing the flame of civilization to this dark place. Instead what he found was a place that completely rejected his ideals and beliefs. After living there long enough, that light was extinguished and he fell into the darkness completely.

Do his final words, "The Horror!" Refer to the land around him which is the antithesis of everything he believed in, or is he perhaps referring to himself and what he has become?
Kurtz and Darkness
The Doctor
The Doctor of the company Marlow works for is keenly interested in the mental changes of those who go to the Congo. He never sees the people come back. Later on Marlow thinks back to him and thinks, "I felt as though I was becoming scientifically interesting."
The Manager
The Manager is the one who runs the central company station. He seems to have very little in the way of talents or skills. He's in no way a very outstanding employee, except...
"He inspired uneasiness. That was it! Uneasiness. Not a definite mistrust— just uneasiness— nothing more. You have no idea how effective such a . . . a . . . faculty can be. He had no genius for organizing, for initiative, or for order even. That was evident in such things as the deplorable state of the station. He had no learning, and no intelligence. His position had come to him— why? Perhaps because he was never ill." (p.21)
He feels threatened by Kurtz's success in the Ivory trade, and is overheard by Marlow talking about what should be done about Kurtz.
A Few Questions
Did Kurtz really lose hope that the African people could be civilized, or did he just stop caring as he focused more and more on Ivory?
Do we really believe that Kurtz was gathering in all that ivory just for money? Or was there more to it, at least near the end?
Would we consider What Kurtz and the rest of the company stations are doing progress? regardless of morality, is it a step forward for civilization?
When Marlow finds Kurtz, he has quite the band of followers, including the Harlequin, all of whom are enthralled by his words and personality. Does there seem to be any substance there or just empty words?
Does it seem like Kurtzis is able to recognize what he has become before his death. Marlow tells us that "It was as though a veil had been rent."(p. 69)
"Kurtz--Kurtz-- that means 'short' in German right?" (p.59) Is there any significance in the fact that a man who is idolized and praised by so many people, a man who is even looked upon as a god by the natives, is actually named short? Does that imply that Kurtz is actually somewhat less grand than they believe?
The Harlequin
The Harlequin serves as Kurtz's servant and disciple. He is the one who fills Marlow in on what Kurtz has been up to lately.
When Marlow mentions the possibility that Kurtz is insane, the Harlequin is quick to leap to his defense.
Here we have one more preson fascinated by Kurtz's words, yet he never directly tells us what the man said that inspires him so.
The Intended
The intended is Kurtz's love back in Europe. She is presented to us as a figure of "light" and mourns Kurtz after his passing. She is unaware of what Kurtz had done in the Congo, and Marlow decides not to enlighten her, even going so far as to lie about Kurtz's last words so she may maintain her innocence.
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