About the author: Joseph Conrad (1857-1924)
Joseph Conrad is born on December 3rd in 1857 near Berditchev (today, that's Ukrainian territory) in Poland as Józef Teodor Konrad Nal ę cz Korzeniowski. He is the son of a nobleman. His father is a writer and a translator of English and French literature. So Joseph gets into contact with literature very early. He grows up in Russia for his family is deported to Siberia in 1861 in consequence of his father's political activity. Shortly after this his mother dies of tuberculosis and four years later his father also dies. So Joseph moves to his uncle in Kraków. At the age of sixteen he leaves the country for Marseille to join French Merchant Navy. While working on a ship Conrad comes to the West Indies and even gets involved into gun running. In order to avoid the Russian military service he becomes a sailor on a British merchant ship and makes a good career. He learns the English language, receives the British citizenship and is appointed for captain by 1886. On this occasion he changes his name into Joseph Conrad. His experience as a sailor provides him with material for his literary work. Especially his voyage up the Congo river was important for “Heart of Darkness”. Particularly his descriptions of landscapes and his presentations of foreign cultures are based on his voyages. In 1894 he decides to end his naval career and starts a new life as an author. He moves to England and marries in 1896. In the same year his first novel “An Outcast of the Islands” is published. He gets famous for the novels “Heart of Darkness” (1902) and “Nostromo” (1904). From now on he continues to write until the year of his death. Altogether he writes 13 novels and many short stories. Conrad writes in English, but he could also speak fluent Russian, Polish and French. He dies in 1924 of an heart attack in Bishopsbourne near Canterbury.
Two main characters:
As a child, Marlow wanted to explore “blank spaces” on the globe. This dream turns into reality when Marlow becomes a sailor when he is a young man. He gets appointed by an ivory-trading company. His mission is to go to the Congo and visit enigmatic Mr Kurtz.
On this voyage through the jungle he has to wait at several stations of his company, where he notices how meaningless the work of the white agents in the Congo is. This makes him to an anti-colonialist. He recognizes the lie in the words “enemies”, “criminals” or “rebels” used in connection with the natives by the other white "pilgrims". In some situation he feels sympathy with the native workers, but mostly he reacts like an objective observer; especially at the beginning of his story. Later his character changes: His coolness vanishes more and more, but he get more human and shows feelings.
An example is his attitude towards one of his workers. The first example shows Marlow's racism: “He [a native] was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. [...] A few months of training had done for that really fine chap. He squinted at the steam-gauge and at the water-gauge [...] he was hard at work, a thrall to strange witchcraft, full of improving knowledge.”
And the second example is his reaction to the death of the native helmsman. Marlow feels the brotherhood of human beings: “He looked at me anxiously, gripping the spear like something precious, [...] I had to make an effort to free my eyes from his gaze and attend to the steering.”
At the end of the story, when Marlow visits Kurtz’ fiancé he is that “human” that he lies for not shocking the young women with Kurtz’ real last words: “The horror! The horror!”
Marlow himself discovers the change of his identity, when he thinks of the doctor visited by him at the beginning of his mission. The doctor predicted Marlow that he would be changed like everyone else in the “heart of darkness”.
Mr Kurtz’ character:
Kurtz is very enigmatic and fascinating for many people who get into contact with him. For example the natives, the strange Russian (“the harlequin”), his over-sensitive fiancé and Marlow. First when he comes to the Congo he is led by great ideals: He wants to humanize, improve and instruct. But the years of being alone in the jungle make him abandon these ideals. He is turns more and more into an animal. As soon as he tasted the power, he sets himself up as a god for the natives. He kills the native “rebels” as they are called by the Russian and puts the heads of them on the six posts in front of his building.
- Quote paper
- Daniel Förster (Author), 2005, Heart of Darkness, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/109783