Heart of Darkness A Cautionary Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

There is more going on between Marlow and Kurtz because of Marlow's desire to know Kurtz. There is a curiosity there that allows Marlow to be open to Kurtz on some level. He is fascinated by his success and searches him out. He may begin his journey as a man looking for another man but Gillon maintains that Marlow's search represents a "search for truth" (Gillon). This search reveals the depth of the evil he discovers. John Jervis aggress with this notion, adding that the novel explores darkness. He states that "Africa is dark even in the sunlight; but the darkness is the darkness of the primeval, not the darkness of evil" (Jervis 68). He also explains that Africa, in all her splendor, is "voiceless" (68) and beyond good or evil. Africa "just is" (68), according to Jervis and she "may even have been the instrument of Kurtz's downfall; but his downfall is not to be laid at her door" (68). Jervis asserts that Kurtz had "fallen below the 'savages' with whom he was surrounded" (69). "He knows the heights of civilized virtue and the depths of its betrayal" (69). Africa has simply becomes Kurtz's "stage, the scene for his downfall. Africa is not dark in itself, then, but only in relation to 'us'; the threat, the attraction, of an impossible freedom" (69). How this downfall occurs is an honest glimpse into the human psyche. Jervis notes that, in his solitude, Kurtz had "looked inwards, into his 'self', and had found nothing. The horror of this had sent him, in desperation, to the other horror, that of unreflective immersion" (69). There are moments of clarity where this notion bubbles to the top. For example, when Kurtz's friend tells the story of being in the wilderness, he realizes that being alone in the wilderness makes one go mad. He states, "I had . . . To go through the ordeal of looking into it myself" (Conrad 311). Jervis writes, that Conrad's message includes the "curse of the modern self, that it cannot, must not, 'forget' itself" (69). This is the thing that Marlow remembers. Jervis maintains that Marlow's ambivalence is telling in that Kurtz remains "heroic, precisely because he did try to confront fundamentals of self and meaning. In this sense, a confrontation with the 'heart of darkness' is necessary, unavoidable, for only this could the truth be revealed, even if this 'truth' turns out to be incommunicable, or even a lie" (69). He tries but he fails miserably because he allows himself to believe the lies that surround him. He cannot fight these even though he knows that they are wrong. Evil has taken him, one small compromise at a time, until there is no moral compass. Jervis goes, on to say that Kurtz "embodies the paradoxes and problems of modern imperialism in the confrontation with otherness" (70). He also represents the fragility of the human psyche when mankind gets what he wants. The gratification he found from indulging in the lie killed whatever ethics were left.

Marlow is the narrator that must tell the story because Kurtz is too far gone. Kaplan points out that throughout the novel, Marlow "insists upon the distinction between truth and lies; between men and women; between civilization and savagery; and, most of all, between Self and Other" (Kaplan). In Kaplan's opinion, the most significant of these distinctions is between the self and the others because the "opposition that sustains the colonial enterprise" (Kaplan). Kaplan believes that it is the lure and the subsequent fear of it justifies the task at hand. What Marlow discovers, however, is that "all binary oppositions collapse in the course of his narrative: colonists prove to be conquerors, the gang of virtue is indistinguishable from the gang of greed, the illusions of women merely echo the illusions of men, and there is no clear distinction between lies and truth" (Kaplan). Kurtz's relationships with women reflect his relationships with the natives. He is not concerned about them in anyway except by how they can benefit him. We see this best displayed in Kurtz's relationship with his mistress and his Intended. These women are portrayed in a very different light. Marlow uses vibrant language when he speaks of Kurtz's mistress. She walks proud and holds her head high. We also know that she is referred to as "savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent" (306). In contrast, his Intended is portrayed as a sad woman, surrounded by darkness. She is deluded with positive impressions of him. Her love is wasted on the man and while she deserves to know the truth, it might be too much for her. Women, in general, are disrespected in the novel. This is par with Kurtz's relationships. Kurtz has abandoned any sense of loyalty, along with his decency, to pander to his own desires and emotions. Terence Bowers states that the novel is similar to Dante's Inferno in that Marlow's journey is much like an underworld in which the "moral structure of the world created by European imperialism" (Bowers). He claims that this world is a "moral sham" (Bowers), which seems to fit within Conrad's ironies, considering the fact the Europeans thought of themselves as those that brought good things to other cultures. Marlow witnesses all that is broken within this culture but he also recognizes what is not broken, just as Kurtz did. He also witnesses the horrors of what the riches of this country can do. He is the lucky one in that he escapes it.

The novel also opens up the debate over the issue of imperialism. Hunt Hawkins claims that when examining the novel, we should bear in mind that Conrad had "two explicit criteria" (Hawkins 288) in which to judge imperialism. One was the efficiency of it and the other is the idea of it. He chose thee two "because they were widely held in England at the same time and were well suited to condemning the type of imperialism practiced in the Congo" (288). Conrad was "making an appeal to the values of his audience so that they might censure the atrocities in the Congo" (288). The value of efficiency is related to Darwinism, where the fittest survive while the idea of imperialism is "what he means when he talks about ideas elsewhere in the story" (288). He comes to this conclusion because Marlow is drawn to Kurtz because he had come to the Amazon with some sort of moral concept. In other words, Kurtz began his journey as an idealist and "in his report he had quite sincerely proclaimed 'we can exert a power for good practically unbounded'" (Hawkins 288). The idea that both men share is "not joining the natives but improving them" (288). Hawkins maintains that while Conrad might not have approved of either of these criteria, he was aware that they were hotly debated issues in his day. Hawkins goes on the say that Conrad "condemned imperialism of all types, both efficient and wasteful, benevolent and malevolent, British and non-British" (Hawkins 297). He does so by showing reader how ugly it can be. He tells us that the so-called colonists were not colonists at all but conquerors grabbing what they could get "for the sake of what could be got" (Conrad 254). He sees it as robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind" (255). In addition, he sums up his thoughts regarding it, saying, "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" (255). Marlow seems to be making several points about imperialism, with most of them being critical of how colonialism is established. He indicates that the forces behind Belgian and French imperialism cannot be brute-force or greed but, instead, by doing what is right by human standards. Marlow detaches himself enough from what is going on to realize the mistakes that Kurtz has made.

Heart of Darkness reveals the delicate nature of man when he is allowed to indulge in all of his passions and desires. The result is a monster that exhibits no control whatsoever. Kurtz does not set out to become the monster he faces at death but that only demonstrates the terrible frailty of the human spirit. He found himself in a place that allowed him to indulge every whim and desire he had. Evil has a way of finding individuals in these types of situations, primarily because they believe they are beyond justice. People commit all kinds of evil when they think no one is looking or no one will know. This is how evil takes hold of people and corrodes their morality. Kurtz had it all in the desolate Amazon. The natives worshipped him and he was free to do as he pleased. As we learn, this might sound like…

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