Heart of Darkness

By Megan Thomas

Another “classic”, which although dated, is historically prolific. Unsurprising, given that this novella is about a sailor called Marlo and his journey with the Belgian trading company up the Congo River to a man called Kurtz.

Kurtz, idealised on the continent for his ability to collect (read: thieve) ivory like no other in the company, but whose reality is one of brutality, murder and cruelty. Naturally, the atrocities committed in Africa are now looked back on in horror, but for Joseph Conrad to have been making this sort of criticism of Western colonialism in 1899 was nothing short of revolutionary – and brave, given King Leopold II’s reign of terror.

The experiences Marlow had in the Congo are revealed in a story-within-a-story style, as he tells of his observations on another boat – on the Thames in another time to sailors with varying levels of interest in his introspection. The layers of power and abuse are immense and I think with more readings, the novella has the potential to continuously increase in complexity.

Outside of the historical context, this is also a tale about the capacity for human cruelty, and a parable of how easy it is for society to accept violence and oppression when it’s normalised politically and not acknowledged for what it is.


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