Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad

BACKGROUND

This is a book that takes place in Europe and then in Africa. Lot of students read this in class as a short story. It is not that short. This was also a movie called "Apocalypse Now". Martin Sheen is in it, with fatty Marlon Brando and Harrison Ford. It's a pretty good movie. In this story there are "agents". These are guys that travel and go get ivory.

MAIN CHARACTERS

Charlie Marlow: He is one of the main dudes of the book. Marlow kinda represent the author. Marlow is on this trip to "find himself" (kinda like rich college kids going to Europe after they graduate to "find themselves"....then they realize who they are...rich college kids!!). But Marlow is a good guy. He is brave and not afraid to fight. He is also humble, and not an arrogant prick. The dude has morals too. He objects to the white guys having the black guys as slaves at the stations.

Kurtz: In the beginning of this book, Marlow talks about Kurtz nonstop. He builds Kurtz up as this great dude and you are supposed to get curious and fascinated by him. Kurtz doesnít really appear much in the book.....but people talk about him A LOT. Kurtz was an ivory agent who goes crazy and reverts back to basic primitive nature. He first kills all the Africans at takes their ivory. Then he controls a loyal army of African slaves and becomes the god of these people. What a nut. Kurtz started out as a good guy but didnít know he had this really evil side to him. Itís like when you and your friend go on a nice camping trip and then one guy turns into an asshole because he is no longer confined to home rules.

The Russian: He is this young sailor dude who is one of Kurtzís loyal followers. He helps Kurtz when he is sick. When Marlow gets to Kurtzís station, the Russian tells Marlow everything Kurtz has been up to. Heís pretty dumb because he follows Kurtz and doesnít know any better.

The Manager: This guy is a prick. He runs the Central Station. He doesnít care about people, just business and making money. He makes the Africans his slaves to help get Ivory, and he doesnít care. What a mean dude.

PLOT

The story starts out with these 5 dudes sitting on a boat. There is a lawyer, an accountant, a military guy, the narrator, and some dude named Marlow. Then Marlow tells them his story. He starts out telling them how he was sailing around, all over the place. He jumped from boat to boat experiencing new things. Many of these boats were ivory boats, sailing around looking for ivory. His rich powerful Aunt got him a job as the captain of a steamer in Africa looking for Ivory. . Then he arrives at the "station". He sees a lot of overworked black slaves. He meets this handsome accountant guy. The accountant tells him about a dude named Kurtz. Kurtz is one of the best "agents" (he gets a lot of ivory). They take a trip to the central "station". They get there and see that their steamboat has sunk. The manager of the central station doesn't know where Kurtz is.

That night Marlow talks with one of the agents. The agent says good things about Kurtz and how he'll probably be promoted in the big company. However, the agent kinda hates Kurtz because they are competing for similar promotions. Marlow pumps the agent for info on Kurtz. Marlow is very curious about this dude named Kurtz. Then the Steamer is fixed so they continue with the trip. They head toward Kurtzís station to find out what the hell happened to him.

They sail on the river and then they are attacked by spears and arrows. Itís the African savages attacking them. They shoot back and try to pop some caps in their asses. They finally blow the steam whistle and the noise scares the savages. Then they get to the "Inner Station". A Russian dude is there and heís taking care of Kurtz because Kurtz is sick. The Russian sailor dude tells the crew that Kurtz went psycho and started killing the African savages and stealing their ivory. He became their leader and was treated like a God. Marlow sees sticks with heads on them (like Lord of the flies). Marlow is kinda scared because he knows Kurtz has a big African army that will do anything he wants them to. Kurtz was the one who told the savages to attack Marlowís steamboat. So now the crew has Marlow in their "custody".

The night before they leave, Kurtz tries to escape back to his followers (the African savages). Marlow catches him and doesnít let him go. They take Kurtz back and thatís where he says those famous lines "Oh the horror..the horror!!" (but you gotta say it in that Marlon Brando voice for full effect). Then Kurtz dies.

Marlow gets sick, but then gets better. He goes back to Brussels. He visits Marlowís fiancťe who he left at home. In the book she is called the "Intended" (like he intended to marry her). She asks Marlow what Kurtzís last words were. He lies and says it was her name. She cries.

PART BY PART

( This book has 3 Really long boring parts. Hope you can keep up. )

PART 1

  • The book starts out with 5 dudes on a boat near London. They are kinda drifting in the water waiting for the tides to change.
  • The guys on the boat are the narrator, Marlow, a lawyer, an accountant, and the guy who owns the boat.
  • Marlow starts telling the other guys about how when he was a young sailor he used to like maps. He was interested in the African Congo. He asked his rich aunt to use her power to get him a job being a skipper on one of the Ivory steamboats.
  • He starts telling his tale of his journey to the African Congo. (This is all one big flashback)
  • Marlow goes to the main offices of the Ivory "Company" located in Brussels. He gets a physical and stuff. All the people in the office tell him how bad Africa will be and how he might go mad or get killed.
  • Marlow is kinda pissed because his influential aunt told the company that Marlow was a kick ass sailor, and he is the greatest. Now they are sending him to Africa thinking he'll make everything better down there.
  • Marlow arrives in Africa. A Swedish Captain takes Marlow to the Outer Station. Marlow sees a lot of disturbing stuff in Africa. Men are dying of diseases.
  • Marlow gets to the Outer Station. Everything there is a disgusting mess. Everything is disorganized and all the machines are old and rusty. He also sees Africans as slaves and doing lots of work for the white men.
  • Then he sees something even grosser. He sees a bunch of Africans dying because they were overworked or they have really bad diseases. He feels really sorry for them, so he gives them some crackers.
  • ∑ Marlow goes up to the main buildings in the station. Then he sees the accountant of the station. The accountant seems to be the only dude in the station that is organized and neat. A sick agent comes in to lie down. The accountant gets annoyed by the groaning. He also gets annoyed by how loud the African slaves are. Marlow sees this dude has no heart or compassion. But Marlow does kinda admire his organization skills.
  • One day the accountant and Marlow are talking and the accountant tells Marlow about this dude named Kurtz. He tells him how Kurtz is this ivory agent who has gotten more ivory than all the other agents combined. He is a kick ass agent. The accountant tell him that Kurtz is at the Inner station (thousands of miles away), and will get promoted.
  • Then they travel from the Outer Station to the Central Station. It is Marlow, an ivory trader and a crew of black slaves.
  • Then the ivory trader becomes really sick and starts fainting. They slaves put him in a hammock and carry him. Since the trader is such a fat ass, they leave him and the hammock lying in the bush.
  • After about 2 weeks they get to the Central Station. It is a disgusting mess too. Marlow finds out that the steamboat he was supposed to be on has been damaged.
  • The manager tells Marlow that he couldn't wait for him any longer so he set out on the boat with an inexperienced skipper. The boat hit some rocks and got ripped up.
  • Marlow suspects he is lying, but doesn't know why yet (later we find out the manager hates Kurtz, and knows he is sick at the Inner Station. So he broke the boat on purpose so no help could get to Kurtz and Kurtz would die. Get it?)
  • Marlow doesn't really like the manager. He's a stupid, slimy guy. Like a car salesman.
  • Marlow looks around the Central Station. He sees a lot of idiotic agents who are stupid, greedy and paranoid about other agents. Marlow sees this young agent who everyone thinks is a spy for the manager.
  • This agent is a brick maker. He and Marlow talk and he tries to get information out of Marlow. Marlow ain't giving up anything. The brick maker gets kinda pissed off.
  • The brick maker tells Marlow that Kurtz is this awesome agent. He came to Africa to make lots of money and also try and make the Africans civilized. The brick maker thinks Marlow is on the same level with Kurtz because he had such a good recommendation coming into the company (remember, his aunt made him seem like God?).
  • The brick maker is so interested in Marlow because he wanted to become assistant manager to the manager and get promoted with him. But because Kurtz is such an awesome agent, he poses a threat to both of them.
  • The brick maker is worried about a new breed of agents called the "gang of virtue". He is worried because they are coming to get ivory and improve life for the Africans. They get much more support than the companies who just come in to take ivory and leave. The "gang of virtue" has morals and stuff.
  • Marlow lies to the brick maker and lets him think he's a pretty influential guy in Europe. This helps Kurtz because the brick maker and manager will keep being intimidated by Kurtz and Marlow's power.
  • The brick maker starts sucking up to Marlow and trying to make himself seem like a great dude. He tells him how smart Kurtz is and that he could help him a lot. He wants Marlow to say nice things about him when Marlow sees Kurtz.
  • Marlow tells him to get some parts to fix the steamboat. the brick maker says he can't and Marlow insists he can. The brick maker gets pissed.

  • Marlow really wants the boat fixed. He sleeps on it at night. Then he finds out the parts he asked the brick maker for are actually gonna come. Marlow is happy. Unfortunately the parts never come.
  • Some dudes show up who are on an "expedition". The group is led by the Manager's uncle. Marlow doesn't like them. They are just more greedy white dudes who want ivory.

PART 2

  • One night Marlow is sleeping on the boat. He wakes up and hears the Manager and his uncle talking. The manager is talking about how he hates Kurtz because he does so well.
  • The Manager tells his uncle that Kurtz is gonna get promoted before he will and that one day Kurtz was coming back with some ivory then decided to turn around and go back to his Inner Station.
  • The Manager also says that Kurtz is the only white guy there except for some dude who is not even an agent for the company. The uncle gets mad, and hates Kurtz too now.
  • Basically, the Manager is whining to his uncle about how Kurtz is good but he is all screwed up, and how he shouldn't get promoted. The uncle agrees and tells him that Kurtz will probably die from disease.
  • The steamboat gets fixed. Marlow starts the trip to the Inner Station. He goes with the manager, a couple agents and about 30 African savages who happen to be cannibals (people who eat people)
  • They sail down the river. Then Marlow just describes how weird the jungle is and how he is really fascinated by the African savages he passes by one the shore.
  • Marlow is really interested in the lifestyle of these savages. They are really free and just dance around and howl. He is really tempted to join the savages, but the only thing stopping him is that he is too involved with work and stuff.
  • Then Marlow describes how he has to watch over the crew and make sure they aren't screwing up. He talks about how the "fireman" on the boat (guys who watched over the boiler on the steamboat) were not really trained.
  • They continue sailing. They see a hut and find a piece of wood with a message on it. The message says "approach cautiously"
  • They are about 8 miles from the Inner Station. Marlow really wants to meet Kurtz but they stop because it is too dark and too dangerous.
  • The next morning they wake up. They are surrounded by a super thick fog. Then they hear some screams and voices.
  • They want to capture whoever is out there and the cannibals on board want to eat them. Marlow realizes how hungry the cannibals must be. Then he thinks about why the cannibals haven't eaten the white dudes on board.
  • Marlow doesn't think they will get attacked by whoever is yelling on the shore. He thinks those yells aren't threatening and the fog is too thick.
  • Then the fog goes away. They set sail again. Then they are suddenly attacked and arrows are shot at them.
  • Then Marlow sees that the ship is gonna crash into some land, so he goes and takes control of the steering wheel. While he is steering he sees the whole army of naked African savages attacking them.
  • The agents and white guys on board start shooting back with guns. The helmsman of the ship gets stabbed and starts bleeding all over the floor. Marlow's feet are covered in blood.
  • Then Marlow blows the whistle on the steamboat and the noise frightens the savage attackers away.
  • Then Marlow stops telling his story for a bit and chats about Kurtz (remember this whole book is Marlow telling a story to the guys on the boat near London).
  • Marlow talks about how after he got attacked he realized that Kurtz must have been killed by savages too. This makes Marlow sad because now that he thinks Kurtz is dead, he gets pissed because he never got a chance to talk to him.
  • Then Marlow starts talking about the real Kurtz. He talks about how Kurtz went bad and he started off as normal but then gave in the to the darkside. He became primitive and basically went "lord of the flies".
  • Marlow talks about some letter Kurtz sent back that talked about how the white man has all this technology, and could help the African savages...but then the letter ends with a call to kill them all. Kurtz started out as this nice moral guy, but then went bonkers and became evil.
  • Kurtz seemed like this guy who had lots of morals and wanted to use technology to do good. He pointed out in his letter that they were ABLE to do good. But the dude went nuts. How ironic.
  • Marlow returns to talking about his story, after the savages attacked. Marlow really misses that helmsman dude who got killed in the attack. He throws the dead carcass overboard because he doesn't want the cannibals on the boat to eat the dead body.
  • ∑ Everyone on the boat thinks that Kurtz must be dead and the African savages must have burned down the Inner Station. They wanna turn back. But then they arrive at the Inner Station.
  • They see this young white dude on the shore. Everyone gets off (the boatÖnot sexually). He leads the crew to where Kurtz is. Then he tells Marlow not to worry about the savages and that they meant no harm in attacking (yeah whateva!!)
  • We find out the young dude is a Russian sailor. He came down the river with no real solid intention. He tells Marlow that the savages attacked because they didn't want Kurtz to be taken away (because he's such a god to them).

PART 3

  • Marlow and the Russian keep talking. The Russian tells him how he found Kurtz and became one of Kurtz's followers (it's like a cult)
  • The Russian keeps telling Marlow about Kurtz. Kurtz seemed like a god to the savages because he was white and had a gun. He used the savages as his personal army. They killed other ivory traders and stole the ivory (So Kurtz WASN'T a good trader, he was just a good robber).
  • Kurtz started becoming crazy because there were no rules in the jungle and he could kill anyone he wanted to. Then while they are walking Marlow sees sticks with skulls on them. Ewww!!
  • Kurtz started to realize that he was becoming corrupt and evil, but it was too late. He was now a dirty evil man. The Russian keeps telling Marlow about all the evil stuff Kurtz did. Marlow makes him stop because he's mad.
  • Marlow is mad because he realized he came to rescue an asshole. He thought Kurtz was an interesting character who was good and in trouble. But Kurtz is an asshole. Marlow is mad at the Russian too, because the Russian was weak and helped Kurtz.
  • Then Kurtz appears. The Russian tells him to call off the savages or else they will kill Marlow and his crew. He calls then off and they leave. This pisses Marlow off even more because he is at the mercy of an evil jerk.
  • Kurtz is on a stretcher and looks really sick. They all get on the boat. Marlow and the slimy manager argue about Kurtz. The manager hates Kurtz (remember?) and can't wait to get him in deep shit with the company. Kurtz is disgusted with how the manager can only think of himself and business. Marlow knows Kurtz went bonkers but knows he's good deep down inside.
  • Then the Russian and Marlow talk. The Russian is worried about Marlow telling people about Kurtz when they get home. Marlow promises to keep his mouth shut. Marlow tells the Russian that the manager wants to kill him so he better leave. The Russian tells Marlow that Kurtz ordered the savages attack because he didn't wanna get taken away. Then the Russian escapes and leaves the boat.
  • Marlow goes to bed. He wakes up in the middle of the night. He sees that the savages are in the woods banging their drums and Kurtz has escaped.
  • Marlow knows that if Kurtz gets in touch with his "loyal army", they could attack the boat and kill Marlow. So Marlow goes after Kurtz and tries to find him.
  • Marlow find Kurtz crawling like an animal. He is going towards a witch doctor. Then Kurtz stands up and tells Marlow that he could kill him.
  • Marlow talks about how Kurtz was going back to his "tribe" because he was hypnotized by the jungle and that whole jungle thing. I guess you could say he was "under the spell of the jungle and evil crap". Kurtz is not completely mad, he is still sane. But he has a savage instinct now which controls him.
  • Kurtz doesnít like whatís he doing, but he has no control over it. (Kinda like when a killer hates killing people, but just...canít...stop...doing...it). So Marlow focuses on convincing Kurtzís mind rather than his corrupted inner soul. Kurtz agrees that he needs to stop this, and they go back to the boat.
  • The big fight here was Kurtzís soul vs his mind. Marlow was trying to appeal to Kurtzís smart mind to get him away from the wild savage lifestyle. Kurtz and his evil soul were kinda pushing Marlow away wanting to return to the evil savage lifestyle.
  • The boat shoves off the next day. Kurtz is on board. The African savages stand on the shore yelling. Marlow blows the steam whistle to scare them away. They all leave except for one of the female savages who was Kurtzís mistress.
  • The boat goes down the river. Kurtz is sick as a dog. Marlow steers the boat and takes care of Kurtz. Marlow is pissed because the manager is happy that Kurtz is dying.
  • Kurtz is almost dead but he keeps talking. He talks about fame and fortune and stuff. Marlow is kinda disappointed because he was hoping Kurtz would be a little more intellectual instead of talking about fame and stuff.
  • The boat breaks down and Marlow fixes it. He has the shakes. He doesnít know whether itís from a sickness or because heís going insane from this journey into the savage land.
  • Kurtz then realizes heís gonna croak. His final words (very famous, especially from the "Apocalypse Now" movie) are "The horror.....the horror".
  • Kurtz dies. Marlow gets something to eat. He keeps thinking about Kurtzís last words and what he meant when he said them. Marlow starts thinking about what exactly the "darkness" is that Kurtzís soul entered (see "Things to Make you Look Smart")
  • Marlow thinks about how Kurtz was sucked in by the jungle and how it seduced him. Marlow didnít get seduced and rejected the "allure" of the jungle.
  • Marlow then gets very sick. He goes back to Brussels. He thinks it kinda sucks that when Kurtz was dying he has great last words, and he stood for something and had all these ideas and judgments. Marlow really doesnít have much to say about anything.
  • When Marlow is home all these friends, acquaintances and relatives of Kurtz show up. Marlow learns how they all thought he was a bright man and how wonderful and talented he was. He was an all around smart dude who was good at persuading people to think a certain way.
  • This one journalist dude who knew Kurtz shows up. Marlow gives him that letter Kurtz wrote from the jungle (Marlow edits out that final "letís kill all the savages" line)
  • About a year after Kurtz dies, Marlow goes to visit Kurtzís fiancťe (in the book they call her "The Intended") . He brings some letters and pictures that belonged to Kurtz. She tells Marlow what a great guy Kurtz was.
  • Marlow feels uneasy because he has this image of Kurtz as this evil guy in savage Africa on the level of savages, and heís talking with this chick whoís saying all these nice things about Kurtz. Marlow knows the truth.
  • The chick asks Marlow what Kurtzís last words were. Marlow keeps thinking about "The horror...the horror", but he lies. He tells her Kurtzís last words were the chickís name. She is VERY happy.
  • Marlow canít believe he lied and kinda sunk into the "darkness".
  • Marlow stops his story right there. the last part of the book resumes with Marlow on the boat on the Thames river with those English dudes.

THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART

  • There is so much god damn symbolism in this book. Ok, the 2 biggest things. The title (Heart of Darkness) represents that Marlow took a trip to the center of the African Congo, which is the "Heart" (center) of Darkness (the jungle)
  • The title also symbolizes Kurtz and how HE has a heart that was dark because his soul was evil and corrupted by savage ways.
  • But other than those 2 meanings the author (Conrad) really doesnít describe what "darkness" means in this book. Darkness is the unknown crap around us, just like the true symbolism is unknown in the book
  • One big symbolic emotional battle is between staying sane and going mad. Kurtz went mad and was corrupted by evil. Marlow felt himself getting sucked in but did not let himself become like Kurtz. 2 ways to avoid getting sucked in was by working (take your mind off it) and self-restraint.
  • Another symbolic matchup is words vs actions. From all the double talk and bullshit spewed by different characters, Marlow learns that he doesnít trust words, but he trusts peopleís actions.
  • Kurtzís last words are a big topic for discussion in class. "The horror.....the horror" means many different things. Could mean that Kurtz is shocked by the horror of what he did. It could mean the horror of what he saw. Or it could mean the horror of how everyone has the same tendency as Kurtz to embrace the dark side and become an evil badass who does lots of evil things. Thatís pretty horrible to know that it is part of human nature.
  • Go see "Apocalypse Now". It will give you a better sense of how Kurtz and Marlow is and how dark the African jungle is (Even though Apocalypse Now is set in Vietnam during the war). The movie is based loosely on this book. REMEMBER THAT.