On Meaning and Civility in Heart of Darkness Essay

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3 December 2013 On Meaning and Civility in Heart of Darkness With “sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion . . . palms of hands outwards,” Marlow of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness resembles “an idol” of Buddha (Conrad 136). Forthwith, Conrad seeks not to spin a realistic tale of imperialism in the Belgian Congo, but rather to profess an omniscient and ambiguous tale that is worthy of the world of which it speaks. That being said, Heart of Darkness paints a vividly ambiguous landscape that exposes the human incapacity to escape himself. I.e. in his moments of absolute confidence of benevolence, man is most blind and vulnerable to the incumbent Darkness of nature that irks all men. Furthermore, motivations of benevolence and malevolence are often inextricably linked, identical even. This philosophy of dark absurdity prevalent to the human condition pervaded Conrad’s time and even his writing. The style and outlook owed itself partially to the era of the composition; Conrad published the majority of his literature during the years 1880-1920 (Matin xix). These were troubled times that brought to light the awesome imperialism and greed of West Europe. Prominently, King Leopold II of Belgium usurped the Congo territory in which he wreaked horrible atrocities (Gondola). Heart of Darkness draws itself from this dark annal of human history. As stated before, the novel does not seek to decry the Belgian treachery, but rather to explore meaning and civility—a lofty task. This is accomplished first by presenting the Conrad perspective through description and allusion; and then pitting different characters against such a world. Their reactions are, in essence, answers to the generalized timeless question posed by bleak conclusions of existence: what is the point of life if we are doomed to life? Thanks to the deep ambiguity of the novella, the question is posed to the reader’s prudence
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