Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: An Analysis

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: An Analysis

The Heart of Darkness is one of the controversial novels written by Joseph Conrad in 1899 which tackles on the life of an ivory transporter in the person of Marlow in the Congo River in Central Africa. The story portrayed the life of Marlow and his experiences as he worked in the land of Africa and with the different events he had witnessed. He recounted on the brutality and the cruelty of the colonizers to the African people (Murfin, 1989). The story is not only an adventure but critics have described Conrad’s work as literary fiction and at the same time a psychological thriller wherein in it conferred about a twisted journey into a the dark interior of a man’s mind more than the man’s journey into the dark continent (Achebe, 1988). Further, Murfin (1989) stressed that Heart of Darkness is more of a literary fiction because it gave emphasis on the character and the psychological development of the protagonist rather than giving emphasis on the plot and action of the story. The novel did not only describe the physical location and characteristics of Africa but it gave more emphasis on the state of mind and the consequences that imperialism had brought to the continent (Achebe, 1988).

Conrad’s aim in writing the story was not mainly to entertain the readers but to convey his stand and arguments about colonialism and racism as he gave more emphasis on the exploration of attitudes and he presented the conflict between the barbarian and the civilized society (Murfin, 1989).

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness involved several themes which reflect the colonialism and imperialism scenario faced and experienced by Africa. It clearly implied themes such as conflict between good and evil, the conflict between man and his natural world, issues about races, issues about identity, power, fear and time, femininity, madness and fate and free will (Phillips, 2003). Further, Conrad had given emphasis on racism especially when he expressed his unconventional ideas about races and in stressing that the blacks and the white people have no much difference. However, this thought was contradicted when in the part of the novel Conrad had suggested that the black people are definitely lesser people as compared to the white races.

In the analysis of Achebe on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, he highlighted how Conrad represented Africa as the directly opposite of the European continent in terms of civilization and on the level of intelligence of the inhabitants. Conrad scorned both on the African landscape and the African people (Phillips, 2003). Though Conrad was able to use tricks in his words and sentences in the novel in order to induce hypnotic trance to the readers, critics were able to comprehend Conrad’s way of disdainful act and treatment against African people. Achebe (1989) stressed that with Conrad’s allegory on River Thames and Congo River, he was able to triumphantly emphasize the inexplicability of the poor African continent and the less fortunate African people. There are still other instances wherein Conrad expressed in a trickery way on how he had ridiculed Africa.

His novel indeed reflects how the world especially the western viewed Africa during that time. Conrad’s and the other westerners racism side prevails in Heart of Darkness through depicting in the novel the presence of the civilized and the uncivilized world. Indeed it was very obvious that Africa represented the uncivilized world which was being colonized by the Europeans. The racism side of Conrad was even stressed when he represented and described the Africans as mere symbols of horror (Phillips, 2003).

Further, in the Heart of Darkness, Conrad used the issue on colonization and imperialism in order to discover the universal question about the good nature of man as compared to his capacity of doing evil (Achebe, 1988). Though it was a great literary work, Conrad had attracted many critics on how he had treated the Africans and the African continent as a whole.

Moreover, Conrad had shown his ideas on liberalism and succeeded in touching the minds and heart of the great minds in England, Europe and America (Phillips, 2003). Through the ultimate narration of the main character, Marlow, the people were being awakened and enlightened on the issue of equality between the black and the white races.

Looking closely on how Conrad described and treated the Africans as inferiors compared to the Europeans, Conrad still has the heart and passion for the Africans and was able to treat the Africans with high regards. Further, Conrad did not only scorned the Africans but he was also so braved in condemning the evil deeds of the imperial exploitation of the Europeans on African (Phillips, 2003). He had criticized the racists and on how they have treated the innocents. Moreover, he had sympathized with the racist’s victims and upholds the essence of an environment which upholds humanity and equality regardless of races and color.





Achebe, C. (1988). An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of  Darkness. Massachusetts Review. W.W. Norton and Company. London.          1988, pp.251-261

Conrad, J. (1990). Heart of Darkness Unabridged. Dover Publications, Inc.: New York.

Murfin, R. C. (ed.) (1989). Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness. A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism. St. Martin's Press.

Phillips, C. (2003). Out of Africa. The Guardian. Retrieved from:

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