Heart of Darkness
While one may consider the race of man to be born into this world inherently evil the question arises as whether or not the most macabre facets of human nature can indeed rooted in evil. Heart of Darkness is an interesting book with a twisted way of thought. It seems as though a major theme in this novella was simply evil and darkness. While it may be true acts of savagery and madness are certainly far from the good which can exist in the hearts of man, there remains one variable which is often ignored in declaring some action, person, or object the personification of evil; and that variable; is survival. There are any many instances of evil rearing its ugly head yet an incredible amount of these instances are rooted in the subject’s need for survival. These instances of this twist of fate can be found in the literary work, Heart of Darkness.
Considering survival is the most basic characteristic of mankind an inherent trait of evil can be considered a direct result. In Heart of Darkness Marlow finally meets the famous (and infamous) Kurtz at the end of the novella, only to find the man had descended to a point of madness that separates him from every standard of western civilization. He had continuously defied the wishes of the Company and acted upon his own will to run the ivory trade at his isolated station and had even taken on a native mistress. To the majority of humankind in that time period those were acts of evil in their own right. Yet in retrospect Kurtz’s fall into “evil” must be analyzed with consideration to his situation. This was a man, cut off from modern civilization, left to fend for his self, given orders from an organization known for committing deplorable acts on mankind, who could only rely on one basic instinct: to survive.
The survival instinct has been known to push human beings to accomplish incredible and sometimes fantastic feats; such as when parents can lift heavy objects off their trapped children or a drowning surfer’s lungs last an extra few seconds before he reaches the surface. In Kurtz’s case though, his survival instinct allowed him to take on the savagery and apparent ‘evil’ of his surroundings. By adapting to his surroundings and thus embracing madness and ‘evil’ Kurtz enabled himself to outlast any other man who would dare venture so deeply into the Congo and set his self up there. Although such a powerful embrace of his survival instinct eventually resulted in death, it cannot be concluded that Kurtz succumbed to some natural apparition of evil which dwells in the hearts of all men but, rather, lost an incredible struggle for survival against overwhelming odds.
There was some disagreement over whether Conrad is criticizing colonialism. It is clear though that he is critiquing religion. In the novel, having religious beliefs in general links the pilgrims and the natives. The ritual in the forest that Marlow describes seems strange but definitely no more dangerous than the surprise attack. One of the seemingly commendable characteristics of Kurtz, is that he seems forced by African religion, like Christianity but seems not committed to either. Marlow seems to really think a lot of his talent to independently assess religions. He may not see eye to eye with Kurtz’s assessment, but he respects Kurtz's skill to have his own opinions of the various religious customs he sees.
The theme of evil in Heart of Darkness does not simply portray a trait present in man from birth, but a result of the natural instinct to survive like mentioned earlier. It shows that the will to survive has no rules, no guidelines, and can consequently result in mayhem that entirely opposes typical civilization. Therefore, the definition of evil can vary depending on the circumstances, which is the message that this novella by Joseph Conrad is sending. He committed such acts, no matter how atrocious, dark, insane, or savage, for one reason: survival. This book should be kept on the “101 Books Every College Freshman Should Read” because it teaches different themes and it shows a different side to a topic that is brought out in books so much, evil. It could be slow reading at times but in the end when the back cover flips over, it is apparent that it was well worth the read.
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