Short Summary of Heart of Darkness: a novel by Joseph Conrad



"Heart of Darkness" is a tale of misery, pain, disease, death and horror of human existence in the wilderness of Africa. Marlow, a seaman, was out of job for a certain period. He got appointed as a sea captain for British Imperialistic forces in Africa partly because of his enchantment for the big uncoiled snake like river of Congo and partly for getting a job. An aunt of him used her influence in getting him the appointment. Marlow reached Africa soon after his appointment.

He tells us of the ship captain that was killed in Africa. It originated from a petty issue, the price of two black hens. The captain felt grieved over being overcharged for the price of the hens, he punished the head of the village with his stick. The son of the villager could not bear that and killed the captain. After this, Marlow tells in detail of how he reached the company office and what happened later.

On his way to Africa, jointly conquered by the British and the French, Marlow observed a new world. This world was full of agonies and pangs of mankind yet unheard in the rather straightforward civilized world from where he had hailed. He observed a French warship firing in the woods while "nothing could happen" there but they still believed that "there was a camp of natives...enemies". Marlow feels that "there was a touch of insanity in the proceeding".

Marlow, despite being in "partnership" with the company out there, utters: "I've seen the devil of violence, and the devil of greed, and the devil of hot desire; but, by all the stars! These were strong, lusty, red-eyed devils, that swayed and drove men-men, I tell you." Marlow found a multitude of these black men lying in the woods: "They were dying slowly-it was very clear. They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now-nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom."

During his voyages to the various company stations within Africa, he hears the echo of one name i.e. Kurtz, the best agent of ivory. He was sending more ivory to the company as all of the others were sending collectively. There was jealousy among others about him. People wanted to snatch his position but none could. One day, Marlow heard that Kurtz was ill. He was in charge of the ship that was to reach the station of Kurtz and rescue him. Marlow, the manager and few other men were on board to take Kurtz back.

They reached the deeper and wild station of Kurtz; the station was surrounded by death and wilderness. They saw Kurtz: he was carried on a stretcher because he was so weak that he could not even stand. However, a hale and hearty Kurtz was seven feet long and unmatched in strength. The Russian tells Marlow that most of Kurtz' expeditions "had been for ivory". Kurtz had a "good lot of cartridges" and "he raided the country" and "Kurtz got the tribe to follow him" and "they adored him". The Russian adds that Kurtz "came to them with thunder and lightning, you know-and they had never seen anything like it-and very terrible. He could be very terrible".

When they try to move Kurtz in the boat, they find that all the nakedness of Africa had gathered there to stop them because they "don't want him to go". It is by a signal given by Kurtz which stops the natives and they let them move with Kurtz. At midnight, Kurtz tries to run back to the village of natives on all fours but Marlow catches him and takes him back in the boat. Later, Kurtz dies in the boat admitting the "horror" of his existence. Marlow cannot get rid of the beautiful getting wasted in the hands of Imperialistic forces which exploited not only the Africans but also the poverty of deserving "universal genius" Kurtz.

Marlow reaches back to Europe and finds the family of Kurtz. He meets his fiance, a middle aged woman. She is filled with love for Kurtz. She has resolute love and admiration for Kurtz. She believes in the idea of Kurtz. She adores him like the natives. Marlow does not tell her of anything evil which befell to or was befallen by Kurtz. The novel ends with the Marlow relates that "the dusk was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a rising wind. 'The horror! The horror!'"




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