Darkness in Heart of Darkness

Every man and woman has a dark side to them. The characters in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness are no different. In this novella, a man named Marlow travels into Africa because he wants to fill the “blank spaces’” on the map, but what he encounters there is not at all what he expected or hoped for (Conrad 373). He finds that the colonists who came before him have turned into violent and covetous people. They have lost sight of who they really are and have forgotten the reason they went to Africa in the first place, to build a civilization.

A certain darkness in the jungle has overtaken them, and they are overwhelmed and unable to realize it. In Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad uses imagery and setting to display the effects of the darkness within the jungle and within imperialism, while in “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent,” John Milton provides a more literal way that darkness can consume a human’s life. The title represents the spiritual and unexplored darkness within the characters. In the novella, the jungle brings out the greedy and selfish side of men, their own heart of darkness. It is a “night journey into the unconscious” when men go to Africa (Meisel 21).

Even the doctor that Marlow meets warns him that when men go to Africa, they change, and “the changes take place inside” (Conrad 376). Kurtz goes to Africa as what society sees as a leader and a good man. He has ambition and the potential to be great. His intended, not knowing what Kurtz has become in Africa, says that there is “’goodness shone in every act’” that he does (Conrad 428). Kurtz is a man that, with good intentions, wants to bring civilization to Africa. “Kurtz came to Africa seeking adventure and advancement,” however once he is there, something dark takes over him, and he is consumed by greed and power (Meir-Katkin 588).

He finds out that in this new place, he can control others and become rich through ivory. The good-natured Kurtz who wanted to be a hero for others is now only concerned with himself and what is good for him. He no longer carries with him anything that he did before. Kurtz has turned to the dark side, and he never comes back. He turns into a monster and can no longer control himself. Even when he has a chance to at least attempt to go back to whom he once was, he desperately tries to crawl away from it. The darkness inside him has taken over.

The jungle is what kills Kurtz, and only when he is taken away by Marlow does he realize who he has become and everything he has done. All he can do is shout “’The horror! The horror! ’” (Conrad 423). Conrad uses Kurtz to illustrate what a place without the light of civilization or rules does to a man. Like Kurtz, but in a literal fashion, the narrator in “When I Consider How My Light Was Spent” has high hopes for his life. He believes that he could have been a great servant of God, but he goes blind, and darkness takes over his life. It bars him from doing what he dreams of, as Kurtz is barred from living the altruistic life had planned.