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  • Author: Joseph Conrad
  • Genre: Novella
  • Date: 1899

Heart of Darkness is a story that tells us about the exploits of an ivory transporter, Charles Marlow, down the Congo River in Central Africa. It is written by a polish novelist, Joseph Conrad and he takes the reader into the depths of Africa and lets him experience the conflicting attitudes towards civilized society and a barbaric society. Also, since the story was penned during imperialistic times of Europe, it has the overtones of racism and colonialism. The original story was published as a three part series in Blackwood’s magazine. It’s been widely translated into different languages across the globe, and in 1998, the Modern Library bequeathed it with the honor of one of the hundred best novels in English literature of the twentieth century.

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Summary

The author had confirmed reports that the story is inspired by his own experience in Africa when he served as a captain of a steamer on the Congo River. The character of Charles Marlow is loosely based upon the author himself, and serves as a way to express his disillusionment and outrage that he felt during his journey to the heart of Africa. What troubled him the most was the widespread corruption and cruelty that was employed by the English companies. The novella’s antagonist Kurtz was shaped along the character of another agent George-Antoine Klein, who was on-board the same steamer.

The story revolves around an accidental captain, Charles Marlow, who is passed on the duties due to unusual circumstances. The new captain tries to bond with his mix of men aboard the steamer which includes his men, the slaves who are supposedly cannibals and pilgrims who help with menial chores. He finds that his men at this station and on board the steamer are involved in a rat race for vested interests and no one has particular interest in serving the company. The reader is then informed about another character, Kurtz who is initially made out to be a people’s person but in reality, he is quite the opposite. ¬†Charles Marlow is entrusted with the job of rescuing an ailing Kurtz. What follows is the journey undertaken by Charles to find the inner station and how he finds the changing attitudes of people around him. The rescue is marked with challenges along the way, with the biggest being getting the steamer seaworthy. The other challenge is to get the various factions of people on his steamer, with their mixed races and cultures, together towards a single goal.

Even though Heart of Darkness is essentially about the journey of Charles along the Congo River, it cannot be dismissed as a mere travel diary or a travelogue. The author has more than managed to bring it alive with his amalgamation of human interaction between different cultures, feelings and quest for survival. For once, National Geographic takes a back seat.

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