Heart of Darkness

You can argue that nearly everyone on this planet has at least one desire within that is so dark and evil that they would do anything to achieve that goal. However, most individuals are capable of controlling and taming their greedy desires for personal gain such as wealth, power, and fame, to the point where they are concealed, leaving their sanity untouched by the extreme darkness of their sinful wishes.

Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness, provides the greatest example of how man’s appetite for greed can prevail and consume almost an entire race’s soul into complete and utter madness, to the stage where it is solely driven by the blackness and impurity of greed. In Heart of Darkness, the European conquest for ivory, (intertwined with greed and lust), drove their race into complete madness, which is most evidently exemplified by Kurtz.

Kurtz represents a typical European male of the 20th century who had a craving for ivory and sacrificed everything for it, including stripping himself of all humanly morals by killing and brainwashing (i.e. colonizing) the inhabitants of the Congo, in order to fulfill his as well as other Europeans’ desires for ivory.

Kurtz’s uncontrollable need for ivory had the unforeseen result of his soul being eaten alive by the ruthlessness and ugliness of darkness, turning him into a demoralized, crazy individual. Greed is a product of material cravings and lust for power, and these two ambitions were combined in the novel to create European colonization. Once their race became obsessed with greed, the Europeans faced the inevitable dark shadows of madness.

In Heart of Darkness, the material aspiration is ivory and to achieve this desire, Europeans ran the first, so-called ‘trading company’ that expanded through the African jungle, primarily through the Congo. However, Marlow came to realize almost immediately the dishonesty of the company, and its true endeavors. “There was an air of plotting about that station, but nothing came of it, of course. It was as unreal as everything else-as the philanthropic pretence of the whole concern, as their talk, as their government, as their show off work.

The only real feeling was a desire to get appointed to a trading post where ivory was to be had, so that they could earn percentages. ” (Conrad, Heart of Darkness 29). The European trading company was all about hunting for ivory, and the greediest member of all was Kurtz, and coincidentally the most deranged of them all. Kurtz would, in the words stated by the Russian, “go off on another ivory hunt; disappear for weeks; forget himself amongst these people-forget himself-you know. ’ ‘Why! He’s mad, I said [Marlow said].

” (Conrad, Heart of Darkness 70). Eventually, Kurtz reached the point where he was solely driven by the material desire for ivory, and as a result, suffered the fate of madness; “Evidently the appetite for more ivory had got the better of the-what shall I say? –less material aspirations,” (Conrad, Heart of Darkness 71) Marlow asserted, referring to Kurtz. It is apparent that Kurtz longed for ivory, but why is this material good so seductive and luring to him. What if we look at this from a psychological perspective?

Stephen Ross, from the University of Victoria, tries to answer this question by concluding that ivory’s “real power lies in its status as a fetishized signifier” (Ross, Desire in Heart of Darkness 71). He adds that ivory is “not only of the Company’s desire, but also of its employees’ desire in as much as they earn percentages on the profit it generates. At this point, the operation of the fetishization takes on a more explicitly psychological dimension as the (conjoined) twin registers of libidinal and capitalist desire converge on a single signifier.

” (Ross, Desire in Heart of Darkness (H. O. D) 71-72). Kurtz, as well as other Europeans profoundly longed for the material good of ivory initially for its profitability. Probably realizing that what would come after is a sense that fulfilled the consciousness with twin benefits of both sensual (libidinal) and profitable (capitalist) pleasures. In Heart of Darkness, the Europeans fulfilled their lust for power by using rash methods to colonize the pilgrims.

The lead colonizer, Kurtz, contributed not only by stripping the natives of their ivory-rich land, but ironically, also by forcing them to assist the trading company in their hunt for their material desires. The trading company’s ultimate goal was, “to run an over-sea empire, and make no end of coin by trade. ” (Conrad, H. O. D, p. 11). The approaches utilized by both Kurtz and the trading company to achieve their shared goals of colonization included the use of intimidation as well as brainwashing the ‘savages’ through the power of expression and language.

The European trading company didn’t necessarily possess much strength, but they indeed had more than that of the pilgrims. “They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. ” (Conrad, H. O. D. p. 7). It was extremely easy to colonize a vulnerable nation, because its inhabitants, in Marlow’s words, “were slowly dying,” and were “nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. ” (Conrad, H.O. D. p. 20).

However, credit must also be given to the Europeans for their second strategic component in their colonization; that is, their ability to brainwash the natives to the point where they displayed great love, respect, and admiration for the European colonizers, specifically for Kurtz. Kurtz managed to gain supremacy over the pilgrims, not by physically beating them, but by mentally empowering them, through the power of expression with his words. “They were common everyday words – the familiar, vague sounds exchanged on every day of life.

But what of that? They had behind them, to my mind [Marlow’s mind] the terrific suggestiveness of words heard in dreams, of phrases spoken in nightmares. ” (Conrad, H. O. D p. 83). Kurtz had so much power over the natives that “they would not stir till Mr. Kurtz gave the word. ” (Conrad, H. O. D p. 72). Marlow, who worked for the trading company and was a fellow colonizer, still felt the weight of Kurtz’s words and viewed him as a teacher. Marlow stated that “Ah! I’ll never, never meet such a man again… Oh, he enlarged my mind! ” (Conrad, H.O. D p. 79).

After saying that Marlow and Kurtz’s wife came to the conclusion that it was impossible not to admire and love Kurtz because of his lust for power. As he was gaining power, Kurtz was fulfilling his desire for ivory, which resulted in an endless lust for more and more. This eventually altered his state of mental health, which grew darker as he obtained more and more ivory. His views on reality became distorted to the point where he only had focus on one purpose, collecting ivory in order to fulfill his needs for power and money.

In Heart of Darkness, Kurtz is a prime example of how the European`s greed for power and material goods (in this case ivory) drove a nation insane. With his unquenchable appetite for greed and power, Kurtz had come to a point where he had lost is sanity. His demise was a consequence of his material greed and lust for power. The human heart has it`s loving and integral side, but it also has a “dark side“ where the shadows of savagery and brutality live in us, and if we do not learn to inhibit this part of ourselves, we are doomed to the fate of utter madness.

This is why greed, an expression of savagery, is indeed, the ‘Heart of Darkness’. Works Sited List: Citations Conrad, J. (1999). Heart of Darkness. New York and simultaneously in Canada: Random House. Ross, S. (2004, August 19). Desire in Heart of Darkness. Conradiana, Vol. 36, Issue ? , 65-91. Retrieved December 13, 2009, from Literary Reference Center EBSCOhost database Neilson, R. (2002, August 22). Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Explicator, Vol. 45 Issue 3, 41. Retrieved December 14, 2009, from Literary Reference Center EBSCOhost database.

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