Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Specifically it will discuss the self-discovery Marlow encounters on his journey through Africa. Marlow's journey from England to Africa and back to Europe is a journey of self-discovery and adventure. He encounters greed, savagery, and indifference along his journey, and he encounters prejudice, imperialism, and a new understanding of himself along the way, as well. In the end, he recognizes he is a changed man who no longer sees the world or himself in the same way.
Throughout the book, Marlow recognizes, as he looks back on his experiences, that he was on a journey of self-discovery on his trip to Africa. Literary critic Harold Bloom notes, "But Marlow reiterates often enough that he is recounting a spiritual voyage of self-discovery. He remarks casually but crucially that he did not know himself before setting out, and that he likes work for the chance it provides to 'find yourself . . . what no other man can ever know'" (Bloom 9). Early in the book, Marlow tells his companions the same thing. He says of his experience, "It seemed somehow to throw a kind of light on everything about me -- and into my thoughts. It was somber enough too -- and pitiful -- not extraordinary in any way -- not very clear either. No, not very clear. And yet it seemed to throw a kind of light" (Conrad). Conrad continues this theme of self-knowledge throughout the story, indicating just how much Marlow changes during his long journey through Africa.
Conrad sets the story as a journey across the continent to represent this theme of self-discovery. Another critic notes, "Within this conception, Marlow's journey only incidentally involves movement through physical space; in essence it represents a 'journey into self,' an 'introspective plunge,' 'a night journey into the unconscious'" (Griffith 4). His journey also represents the darkness of men's souls, as the title suggests. He encounters terrible things along his journey, such as the prisoners and slaves at the Company headquarters, who lay slowly dying in plain sight. These images disturb him, but even worse, there is no reaction to them by the other workers, and that is even more disturbing. It tells Marlow that these humans have lost their ability to think and act humanely, and that is extremely disconcerting to see.
When Marlow is stuck at the station, working to rescue the sunken steamer, he acknowledges his journey is teaching him more about himself. He says, "I don't like work -- no man does -- but I like what is in the work, -- the chance to find yourself. Your own reality -- for yourself, not for others -- what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means" (Conrad). He also begins to speculate on the other men at the station and what their motivations are for being there, in the heart of Africa. Mostly, he finds greed and a great indifference to anything around them. Most of them want to become stationmasters who manage ivory and gain a percentage of the huge profits, nothing more.
Marlow also encounters another aspect of British society at the time, the colonial or imperial conquests and how the British exploit them in every way imaginable. Another critic notes, "In Heart of Darkness Conrad makes it clearer than in any of his other novels that benevolent and exploitative colonialism are really contiguous" (Hawkins 81). Confirming this outlook, another critic writes, "The 'Congo' of this headline is specifically Leopold's Congo Free State, and it functions as a kind of shorthand for a frontier-zone of brutality and terror -- a condition, it should be realized, that is perceived to have been brought about by the abhorrent actions in the area of European colonialists" (Brown 14). Throughout the novel, Marlow encounters evidence of the horrific practices the whites use against the natives, from making them into slaves, to undoing their way of life and their culture. Marlow sees the seeds of great change for the natives as he travels up the river, and he sees that they recognize it, as well.
After one encounter with cannibals he says, "They had not the fierce character boding of immediate hostile intention. Unexpected, wild, and violent as they had been, they had given me…