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A Study Guide of the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad


Heart of Darkness, a novella written by Joseph Conrad, was first published in Blackwood’s magazine in 1899. It wasn’t printed in book form until 1942 in Youth: A Narrative, and Two Other Stories.

Joseph Conrad set sail for the Belgian Congo in 1890, and wrote of his experiences in his novella, Heart of Darkness. On the surface, the story is similar to a mystery, but if you explore it on a much deeper level, you will find it more akin to a journey into the subconscious of man.

It is regarded as his best work, and revered for its exploration of the terrifying depths of human corruption, and social and psychological disdain under the guide of a metaphor of a journey to the heart of Africa. Heart of Darkness bridges the gaps between Victorian norms and the principles and values of modernism.

Similar to Victorian novels, the book relies heavily on heroism and the challenges of a changing world. Interestingly, much of the story focuses on alienation, confusion, and extreme doubt in the face of imperialism.

By the 1890’s, much of the world’s dark and unfathomable locations had fallen under European control, and the powers that be had begun to become stretched too thin, trying to defend and manage major empires. The system had begun to show it’s flaws through riots, wars, and the abandonment of commercial enterprises.

These things causes panic amongst the white men living and running massive empires. Society, as it was known, was very obviously falling apart. Heart of Darkness suggests that this is the natural outcome whenever man is permitted to operate outside of a social system of balance. Power, inevitably, always leads to corruption.

The novella, at an abstract level, can be considered to be a narrative about the challenges of understanding the world outside of itself, and, about the ability of man to place judgment on others.

Heart of Darkness follows the stories of an experienced captain Marlow and a former officer Kurtz. Kurtz’s character is symbolic of greed and commercialism, power and the influence of barbarism on the civilized world. Marlow, on the other hand, symbolizes a thirst for knowledge, and a spirit of adventure.