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Heart of Darkness

In Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad created an image, or at least popularized it, of one of humankind's most deep-rooted "beliefs." "Heart of darkness" is an atavistic phrase, a primal emotion, feral, 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 defined as "panic" - fear of Pan's domain, the deep forest where night amplifies innocent (and not-so-innocent) natural sounds into soul-wrenching piques of terror, the dark heart whose murmurs pull one away from the "light" of civilization's carefully-constructed beacon fire. In Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad does not attempt to find words to describe those feelings; instead, he carries us along with him as he experiences them firsthand.

The structure of Heart of Darkness is myth-pure: a journey from the safety of the known into the unknown world of danger/ death and back out again. An odyssey, of course, denied epic status by dint of the brevity of its recounting - and the fact that its protagonists are not godlike heroes, but a confused observer (Marlowe), a demented enigma (Kurtz) and a sideshow of iconlike characters and locales. Perhaps these characters and locales, not the protagonists at all, are what qualify a story as epic. 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 ...

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Heart of Darkness. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 17:00, December 07, 2021, from