Places: Heart of Darkness

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: serial, 1899; book, 1902

Type of work: Novella

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Heart of DarknessCapital and largest city of Great Britain. The story opens with five men on a cruising yawl on the River Thames on a hazy evening at sundown. One of the men present is named Marlow. He is the only one of the men who is still active as a sailor or naval officer. Marlow begins telling a long story by remarking that the Thames has a dark history. He is referring to ancient times when the Romans first colonized England. At that time, London was an uncivilized place for the relatively sophisticated Romans to be entering.

*Brussels

*Brussels. Capital city of Belgium. Marlow tells a story concerning his voyage to the heart of the African continent. The company that has hired Marlow to fix a river steamer and become its captain is headquartered in Brussels. At the time of the story, the 1890’s, Belgium was a colonial power in control of a large portion of central Africa. Marlow must visit the company offices to obtain his commission and get orders concerning his new job. The people who work at the company headquarters treat him as though they do not expect him to return. The entire story Marlow tells shows that he has strong contempt for the way the Belgians have managed the country. He compares the city to a sepulcher–white on the outside but full of rotting bones.

*Congo River

*Congo River. Greatest waterway in Central Africa. Joseph Conrad never names these places by their proper names, but it is obvious from his descriptions of them and their place on the map of Africa that he is referring to Congo Free State and to the lengthy Congo River. Marlow also discusses the company’s lower station and a central station, analogous to Stanley Falls, far up the Congo River in the center of Africa. The trip that the steamer, captained by Marlow, makes up the Congo River to relieve Kurtz is eventful and dangerous both because of African attacks and because of tropical diseases. The journey into the heart of the dark rain forest is symbolic of the journey into the dark depths of the human soul.

BibliographyBeach, Joseph W. The Twentieth-Century Novel: Studies in Technique. New York: Century, 1932. Conrad’s narrative style and his characterizations (especially of Kurtz) are discussed. How Conrad’s life experiences are related to the plot is hypothesized.Gillon, Adam. Joseph Conrad. Boston: Twayne, 1982. A book-length exploration of Conrad’s style and how his technique evolved, especially regarding the narrator, Marlowe. There is also an analytical consideration of Kurtz.Guerard, Albert J. Conrad the Novelist. New York: Atheneum, 1958. Examines some of the autobiographical elements of the work as well as Conrad’s attitudes toward social and historical events of his time. Provides useful insights into Kurtz’s character.Hay, Eloise K. The Political Novels of Joseph Conrad. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963. Presents the view that Heart of Darkness is not the masterpiece critical acclaim would suggest. Explores the social events and political climate of the time to show some of the influences on the plot and style.Watt, Ian. “Heart of Darkness.” In Conrad in the Nineteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. A discussion of sources and ideological perspectives relative to Kurtz and the Victorian era. A scholarly assessment in a readable style.
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