Heart of Darkness Essays

Introduction for Essay

In Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, Conrad explores the plurality of truths surrounding European companies working during the height of the ivory trade in the 1800s, as they seized central parts of Africa along the Congo River. The novella delves into the imperialistic ideas that prevailed throughout Europe and were later imposed on African colonies. Conrad also examines these truths through the perspective of a chameleon-like character, such as Charles Marlow, who constantly questions his morality and persona in relation to characters like Kurtz. Conrad exposes the imperialistic ideas and the horrific treatment inflicted upon the villagers while they worked for the company. The aim is to capture the attention of Europeans and create awareness among future buyers, questioning whether their morality aligns with social appearances and the accumulation of possessions or with human ethics. The novella seeks to demonstrate that individuals have the capacity for evil, even when they believe they lack the motivation to act in such a way, leaving readers to contemplate if they are any different.

Research Paper on Heart of Darkness

Imperialism involves expanding one’s territory by taking over another country or nation. There are various reasons for imperialism, often driven by the desire for military bases and access to untapped natural resources. Dominant and powerful imperialistic nations take advantage of smaller, underdeveloped, and weaker countries that lack resources like a strong military to defend themselves against invaders. When Marlow is dispatched by the company he works for to meet Kurtz at the inner station, his crew members tell him that the company engages in this work as a form of “trading” with an underprivileged nation, claiming to support them and promoting progress toward a more civilized African society.

Imperialism and Exploitation

However, this proves to be a foreshadowing effect, setting the stage for the unexpected atrocities awaiting Marlow upon his arrival to meet Kurtz. Upon docking, Marlow notices Kurtz’s ultramasculine persona when he discusses the “trading process” with the natives. Kurtz does not conceal the fact that he acquires items, such as ivory, through force and resorts to physical abuse against the native Africans. Kurtz believes he can control the “savages” by employing intimidation and violent tactics, thus demonstrating the superiority of the white man’s civilization. By dismantling the existing native government from a psychological standpoint, Kurtz reveals the weaknesses of their leaders, portraying them as incapable and easily destroyed.

Argumentative Essay Examples on Heart of Darkness

While Marlow witnesses this abuse, he grapples with darkness in his heart and a sense of apprehension. Although Marlow shows compassion toward the natives internally, he refrains from expressing it outwardly. Yet, given the futility of the situation, Marlow feels compelled to remain a passive observer. This raises the question of why he does not intervene more actively. Marlow makes several subtle attempts to show his compassion. He treats the natives well and even tries to share a portion of his meal with one of them. However, there is an event that leaves readers uncertain about Marlow’s actions. While on a boat, Marlow’s helmsman is fatally wounded by a spear from a fellow village, and Marlow watches him die. He describes the helmsman’s expression during his last moments and the discomfort it causes him, stating, “I had to make an effort to free my eyes from his gaze and attend to the steering.”

Moral Conflict and The Plurality of Truths

Marlow knows that even if he attempts to remove the spear, the helmsman will still die. This event sheds more light on his character when he decides to ignore the death of his helmsman and dispose of his body. Marlow throws the body overboard to prevent the other cannibals on board from consuming it. Although this action may initially appear cruel to readers, Marlow’s intention seems genuine, as he seeks to protect the body from being desecrated. While his connection with the helmsman may not have been strong, Marlow’s perspective suggests that witnessing the “savages” feasting on a body would have made him feel responsible for allowing such abuse to occur.

Thesis Statement for Heart of Darkness

Marlow’s questionable actions can be explained within the context of the social norms prevailing at that time, which condoned cruelty towards the slaves working for the company. Although Marlow did not personally believe in the correctness of these actions, he allowed the abuse to continue. Conrad strategically positions Marlow as a key figure in the novella to explore the intertwining of imperialism and futility. Darkness resides within Marlow’s heart, burdened by guilt and empathy for the natives, yet he fails to take meaningful action to assist them or advocate on their behalf. Many individuals, including Conrad, during that period did not view this treatment as morally acceptable. Conrad’s purpose was to expose the concealed truths behind the trading business and human behavior, drawing heavily from his own experiences traveling in the Congo.

The underlying truth conveyed is that individuals will act cruelly when they face no consequences for mistreating others, even when their morality conflicts with such mistreatment. The absence of accountability and the allure of power lead them to continue perpetrating it. Conrad drew upon his personal encounters with evil deeds in the Congo to raise awareness that everyone, regardless of their perceived morality or belief in being a good person, possesses the capability for evil. Subconsciously, when given the opportunity to commit acts of evil against others without consequences, individuals are unlikely to refrain, as the feeling of power becomes addictive. Conrad used his novella to convey the message that people can be innately “savages” and that everyone has the capacity for evil, even when they believe otherwise. This prompts readers to question their own nature.

Power Dynamics and Corruption

Imperialism and futility extend beyond the act of colonizing nations for self-interest and can be applied to any life-or-death situation. Conrad wrote the novella at a time when expressing different opinions on such matters was controversial and uncommon. However, the plot can be contextualized in everyday situations. For instance, an individual who receives a promotion at work may begin treating others with disrespect, even though they previously treated everyone fairly. This power dynamic, once established, tends to corrupt their behavior.

Ideas: Fear and Its Role in Inaction

Conrad also incorporates good and evil within each character, particularly Marlow, who harbors darkness in his heart. Marlow grapples with his place in Congolese society and desires to be a good person, yet he acts contrary to his beliefs. Readers may wonder why he does so. It is the imperialistic ideas and the pervasive sense of entitlement within his surroundings that deter him from acting on his instincts to protect the slaves, as he fears punishment from Kurtz or other company leaders. Conrad employs Marlow as a measuring tool to weigh good against evil. However, a single action can tilt the scale and make Marlow and the reader feel a sense of goodness. Yet, Marlow contradicts himself at times, once again tilting the scale and prompting readers to question his character.


Conrad recognizes that individuals often fall short in this context of imperialism and fear due to their fear of punishment. Does this imply that the entire human race is inherently evil? Yes, it does. Marlow does perform good deeds, but are they enough? Conrad emphasizes this when Marlow fails to help the slaves escape to freedom or safety out of fear, which ultimately leads to his descent into madness. In conclusion, this novella serves as a means of self-reflection on the aspects of ourselves that we believe to be good but fall short of. Humanity bears responsibility for the darkness and ugliness prevalent in the world, leaving our hearts shrouded in darkness.

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