Joseph Conrad, in his long-short story, ³Heart of Darkness,² tells the tale of two mens¹ realization of the hidden, dark, evil side of themselves. Marlow, the ³second² narrator of the framed narrative, embarked upon a spiritual adventure on which he witnessed firsthand the wicked potential in everyone. On his journey into the dark, forbidden Congo, the ³heart of darkness,² so to speak, Marlow encountered Kurtz, a ³remarkable man² and ³universal genius,² who had made himself a god in the eyes of the natives over whom he had an imperceptible power. These two men were, in a sense, images of each other: Marlow was what Kurtz may have been, and Kurtz was what Marlow may have become.
Like a jewel, ³Heart of Darkness² has many facets. From one view it is an exposure of Belgian methods in the Congo, which at least for a good part of the way sticks closely to Conrad¹s own experience. Typically, however, the adventure is related to a larger view of human affairs. Marlow told the story one evening on a yacht in the Thames estuary as darkness fell, reminding his audience that exploitation of one group by another was not new in history. They were anchored in the river, where ships went out to darkest Africa. Yet, as lately as Roman times, London¹s own river led, like the Congo, into a barbarous hinterland where the Romans went to make their profits. Soon darkness fell over London, while the ships that bore ³civilization² to remote parts appeared out of the dark, carrying darkness with them, different only in kind to the darkness they encounter.
These thoughts and feelings were merely part of the tale, for Conrad had a more personal story to tell, about a single man who went so far from civilization that its restraints no longer mattered to him. Exposed to the unfamiliar emotional and physical demands of the African wilderness, free to do exactly as he chose, Kurtz plunged into horrible orgies of which human sacrifice and cannibalism seemed to have formed a part. These excesses taught him and Marlow what human nature was actually like: ³The horror!² Kurtz gasped before he died. Marlow¹s own journey from Belgium to the Congo and thence up the river then took on the aspect of a man¹s journey into his own inner depths. Marlow was saved from the other man¹s fate not by higher principles or a better disposition, but merely because he happened to be very busy, and the demands of work were themselves a discipline. The readers perceive, too, that other white men on the Congo refrained from such excesses, if they did so, only because they had lesser, more timorous natures which did not dare to express themselves completely. Marlow felt that he had taken the lid off something horrible in the very depths of man which he could not explain when he returned to the world where basic instincts had been carefully smoothed over. Faced by a crisis, he even denied what he had seen to Kurtz¹s Intended, though he was appalled by his lie as bringing with it a betrayal of truth which was essentially a kind of death.
In ³Heart of Darkness² the sense of human waste that pervaded the story was best unfolded in the ivory itself. It was an object for the rich - in decorations, for piano keys and billiard balls - hardly a necessary item for survival, or even for comfortable living. In a way, it was evil, a social luxury , an appurtenance to which people had become accustomed; and it was for evil, for appurtenances, that the Congo was plundered and untold numbers of natives were beaten and slaughtered brutally or casually. This view of evil was part of Marlow¹s conception; a utilitarian object like copper or iron would have had its own reason for being. Kurtz¹s evil propensities (he collected natives¹ heads, he sought the ³evil² ivory) made him so contemptuous of individual lives; for evil and life have traditionally clashed. Beauty for the few was gained with the blood of the many.
Where evil ruled, it was a form of power. The evil took on magical significance, becoming a kind of totem and treasure. Perhaps consciously aware of this, like the evil he had become,