Wednesday, 24 April 2013


Joseph Conrad
“. . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream—alone. . . .”
These days we are reading some pages from Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS (1899) and, as usual, I'll try to help you study and understand both the novel and its author better providing you with useful materials and links.
Let's start with some links to know more about


The story of HEART OF DARKNESS is connected to Conrad's personal experiences. In 1890 he went to Africa to command a vessel on the Congo river for a Belgian company. His predecessor had been killed by native Africans. Conrad was partly there simply to get a living but, at the same time, he was a romantic for whom sailing was a spiritual vocation, as many of his novels testify. However, this time his travelling experience was extremely painful. His four-month adventure left him near death, devastated by fever. In 1891, after his return to Europe, he wrote in a letter to a friend :" I am still plunged in deepest night, and 
my dreams are only nightmares".

At that time, king Leopold II of Belgium had set up a number of concession companies managed by his own representatives and their private armies to exploit the Belgian Congo's material resources for his own gain, under the pretence of "civilizing" the natives through a "salutary" work regime.


Marlow's journey is first of all geographical discovery of what was referred to as "Darkest Africa" in the 19th century. However, Conrad's story is also about the mystery that lies at the core of the human consciousness, it is a journey into the self: civilized man, freed from the restraints of society and work, finds out that, at heart, he is savage and instinctual, rather than rational, and that he can prove even more savage and cruel than the natives he has the duty to "civilize".
Marlow's voyage can also be interpreted as the quest of the mythic hero who faces obstacles and trials to acquire knowledge for himself and his people. In this respect HEART OF DARKNESS has been compared to Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid and Dante's Inferno.
But the African jungle is also a reminder of man's prehistory; Marlow says that sailing up the Congo is "like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world". This anthropological element is developed in a manner that anticipates psychoanalysis when Conrad treats the experience as an act of penetration into the most ancient core of the European mind, a descent, back in time, into man's most primitive self, which establishes a bond between the civilized and the primitive.
A further level of interpretation is that of the double, a character made of two sides. This approach provides a key to understanding the interaction of Marlow and Kurtz.




The novel is rich in imagery andsymbolism, in parallels - such as those between the river Thames and the Congo, between Marlow and Kurtz - as well as in oppositions - black and white, light and darkness. It is interesting to notice that the traditional meaning of light/darkness given by the frame-narrator, is gradually suberted as Marlow's retrospective narrative unfolds. For the frame-narrator light is associated with calm, peace, beauty and good. Darkness or gloom,  on the other hand, is seen as an insidious menace to light and ultimately as evil. 
Thinking of light as the symbol of knowledge, it still has a reverse value in Marlow's account: in Africa light will be blinding, Marlow will start to know himself and the truth while penetrating the darkness of the jungle. 
As Marlow penetrates into the darkness of Africa, black too acquires positive connotations: it is the colour of the jungle, of a primitive, noble environment and of its people. White, instead, is associated with the negative aspects of colonialism: violence, exploitatio, hypocrisy, indifference.



This film belongs to the genre of the so-called "Nam-movies" which appeared in the United States in the late 1970s and which dealt with the experience of the Vietnam War. Willard, a captain suffering from battle fatigue, is ordered to take a four-man crew up to the Mekong River into Cambodia where he is to exterminate Kurtz, a violent American colonel who has set up a ruthless dictatorship on an island.
The film stars Marlon Brando as colonel Kurtz and Martin Sheen as Captain Willard. It was directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
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