Heart of Darkness

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Heart of Darkness is a novella by Joseph Conrad, originally published as a three-part series in Blackwood's Magazine in 1899.

If you were looking for the, aside from the title, totally unrelated video game, you can find it here.

Heart of Darkness tells the story of Charles Marlow, a ferry captain on an expedition down the Congo. The objective is to track down a mysterious ivory trader called Kurtz, who has a strange influence over the natives. On the way, Marlow bears witness to the savage climate, the enslavement of natives by European imperialists, and the inherent evil of mankind. If the title didn't make it clear enough, this story isn't going to have a happy ending.

The novella went on to inspire several other works, and has long been held as an archetypal anti-colonialist novel for its harsh depictions of the exploitative "grab for Africa" policies operated by European powers.

Tropes used in Heart of Darkness include:
  • Apathetic Citizens: Overlaps with Ignored Epiphany. After Marlow finishes talking about his journey to Africa, one of the listeners responds with, "We have lost the first of the ebb." One of the most common interpretations of this line is that shows just how callous most people are to the brutality going on in Africa.
  • A-Team Firing: One character describes a French attempt to quash rebellious locals. They used a warship to bombard open brush, regardless of the fact that they didn't even know of anyone hiding in it.
  • Character Filibuster: A seventy-page novella with sixty-four pages being pure, uninterrupted dialogue from Marlow. Justified though, since none of the others felt like talking at all during their gloomy trip, not even to interrupt Marlow, and might as well have been asleep. The format of the book is essentially him telling the story anyway.
  • Circles of Hell: The further up the river, and deeper into the heart of Africa that Marlow is, the darker it gets, culminating in the arival at Kurtz's house.
  • Clothing Reflects Personality: Every single major person Marlowe encounters as he goes upriver has worse and worse clothing to reflect the increasing divisions from European society and civility. While the Chief Accountant at the outer station wears fancy and rich clothing, Kurtz is nearly naked.
  • Composite Character: Kurtz is inspired by several Europeans who "made their mark" on the Congo. The name is a take off on one in particular, George Antoine Klein ("kurz" is German for short; "klein" is Dutch/Belgian for short/small).
  • Darkest Africa: The protagonist, Marlow, subverts the trope by telling his audience that "this also...has been one of the dark places of the earth" refering to Britain. The ancient Romans, he says, regarded Britain as a "savage" land where colonists had to be "men enough to face the darkness".
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The novella only has three characters that have names (Marlow, Kurtz, and a minor character called Fresleven). Others include the Narrator, the Accountant, the Manager, the Director, the Director's Uncle, the Pilot, Kurtz's Mistress, Kurtz's Intended, Marlow's Aunt, the Russian, etc.
  • Famous Last Words: "The horror... the horror..."
  • Foil: Kurtz is in the story for only a short time and there is little to to suggest his motivations or internal conflicts. However, his presence easily adds much more insight to Marlowe's character.
  • For Science!: The attitude of the doctor who checks up on Marlow before his journey.
  • Going Native
  • Hungry Jungle
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The cannibals who aid the voyage. Despite this habit, they are portrayed as sensible and reserved compared to the European crew.
  • Infallible Narrator
  • Informed Ability: Everyone who meets Kurtz can speak of him only in the most hyperbolic praise. He is a genius without equal, and has a mesmerizing presence that causes people to worship and adore him (see below). However, none of this is actually demonstrated to the reader, so you just have to take their word for it.
  • I Will Wait for You: Kurtz's fiancée. Presented as pathetic, because she has deluded herself about Kurtz to the point that she's barely functional as an independent person.
  • Jerkass: The Director
  • Meaningful Name: Subverted. Kurtz (kurz is German for "short"), is described as nearly seven feet tall. His name also makes a pun on the English word "Cursed".
  • Mighty Whitey: Subverted... in spades.
  • Mister Danger
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Kurtz's last words hint that... if you completely ignore that the point was that he was saying the land itself was evil to justify his own actions.
  • Only Sane Man: Marlow, though he's clearly disturbed by the end of the book.
  • The Power of Legacy: Marlow lies to Kurtz's fiancée when asked to recount Kurtz's last words.
  • River of Insanity: Trope Codifier.
  • Send in the Search Team
  • Start of Darkness: Marlow, who has claimed that he detests lies, lies to the Brickmaker to help Kurtz (whom he didn't even know), but then feels regret and realizes that he's not different from the 'Pilgrims'. At the end, however, he notices that nothing bad happened after he deceived Kurtz's fiancee, after all...
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Marlow respects Kurtz even after seeing his misdeeds.
  • Talkative Loon: The Russian
  • Title Drop: "The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness." is one example. The "Heart of Darkness" comes up frequently throughout the book.
  • Truth in Literature: As revealed by Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost, colonialism in the Congo really was every bit as brutal as Conrad depicted it. If anything Conrad's vision of it might be a bit of an understatement, considering anywhere from five to ten million natives are estimated to have died in the Congo during the time period. See also Composite Character above.
  • Ubermensch: Kurtz
  • What You Are in the Dark: A core point of the book, which examines how humans react to separation from all the controls of society.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Kurtz is seemingly corrupted by the power he has over locals.