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The Myth Structure of Heart of Darkness

In Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad depicted an image of one of humankind's most deep-rooted religious beliefs. "Heart of darkness" is an atavistic phrase, a primal, one that drives deeper into the spirit than simple thought can convey. Ostensibly about a steamboat trip into upriver colonial Africa, Heart of Darkness transcends that continent, touching instead upon something akin to what the Greeks in their Dionysian religion defined as "panic" - fear of Pan's domain, the deep forest where night amplifies natural sounds into soul-wrenching piques of terror, the dark heart whose murmurs pull one away from the "light" of organized religion's carefully-constructed beacon fire. In Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad does not attempt to find words to describe those religious feelings; instead, he carries us along with him into his firsthand religious experience.

The structure of Heart of Darkness is myth-pure. It is a journey from the safety of the known into the unknown world of danger/death and back out again. The classic religous myth: Odin in the domain of the dead, Jesus Christ to Hell and back. This particular odyssey's protagonists are not godlike heroes, but a confused observer (Marlowe), a dying enigma (Kurtz) and a sideshow of iconlike characters and locales - a mythic assemblage. Certainly, if Orpheus' crossing the River Styx into Hades is of mythic proportions, so, too, is Marlowe's journey up the (Congo) River into the jungled center of equatorial Africa. The novella's panoply of characters reminds one of the demi-gods and demons of Greek epic: a starched-shirt colonial accountant - "I took him for a sort of vision" (45); a manager who inspires "neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. ... But he was great" (50); an insolent, black-skinned messenger of death who "said in a tone of scathing contempt - 'Mistah Kurtz - he dead'" (112). There is even a Penelope waiting in mourning clothes for the...

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The Myth Structure of Heart of Darkness. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:44, December 07, 2021, from